- Researchers from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service have developed a process that produces 2-keto-D-gluconic acid, a building block chemical for vitamin C, by using bread-based food waste, according to a study published in Biomass Conversion and Biorefinery.
- The process involves adding water and enzymes into glucose-rich bread waste to enable fermentation and the development of the 2KGA acid. This chemical can be used to produce bulk quantities of bio-based ascorbic acid (vitamin C) as well as detergents, cement plasticizers and base chemicals required for herbicide compounds, according to Bakery and Snacks.
- Synthetic production of 2KGA requires the use of nitrogen, mineral salts and expensive nutrients, which can result not only in a costlier product but also one that is dependent on harmful oxidizing agents.
Since bread is one of the highest food waste categories, this discovery could prove useful for manufacturers. According to the USDA, more than 12.5 million tons of bread and baked goods are wasted annually — the majority of which ends up in landfills. Those millions of tons of uneaten food not only translate into waste but also millions in annual losses. For U.S. manufacturers, food waste totals an estimated $2 billion in lost revenue, according to the nonprofit ReFED.
While food waste weighs on companies’ bottom lines, it also weighs on consumers’ minds and is influencing their purchase decisions. In a 2019 food waste and upcycling survey of more than 500 consumers, Mattson found that 74% saw food waste as an extremely big issue, while 26% said it was somewhat of an issue. Even during the pandemic, sustainability and food waste remains an issue that consumers care about.
Finding a solution could prove to be profitable for companies. Food waste is a booming business worth $46.7 billion in 2019 and has an expected annual growth rate of 5% for the next 10 years, according to a 2019 study from Future Market Insights using data published by Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data. Within that booming category, bakery is listed as the second segment with the most opportunity to take advantage of food waste.
Already the segment has seen some progress in that arena. Ingredient maker Planetarians has closed nearly $1 billion in funding in its quest to make protein flour from defatted sunflower seeds, while Danish bakery Jalm&B partnered with Carlsberg to create a sourdough bread made from upcycled hazelnuts.
But traditional bread products remain popular with consumers. A recent report funded by the American Bakers Association and conducted by the Center for Generational Kinetics revealed that 78% of millennials and Gen Z consumers include carbohydrates in their regular diet, with 73% buying bread and 63% purchasing a sweet baked good in the previous week. With continued interest in bakery products, other companies are looking for ways to creatively repurpose what goes to waste.
The role of 2KGA in the production of vitamin C could be a lucrative find for manufacturers looking to make use of wasted bread in their manufacturing facilities. Vitamin C is a popular immunity-boosting ingredient — a quality that is in high demand as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Just last year, a white paper from the ingredients company Kerry said 65% of consumers seek functional benefits from their food and drink, including immunity and digestive support.
Having vitamin C production available through a bioprocess that eliminates the need for any artificial additives can help companies seeking clean label ingredients. If companies show they have an interest in adding a layer of immune-boosting functionality to their foods that can also boast a clean label and claim upcycled status, there might be a strong interest in large-scale production of this 2KGA acid from baked good companies.