- The Upcycled Food Association created a task force of academic, nonprofit and industry leaders who just released the first official definition for "upcycled food." The group said implementing a single definition could unify the category and encourage more food companies to use ingredients that reduce food waste.
- As defined by the group, "Upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment."
- The task force included researchers from Harvard University and Drexel University, as well as representatives from nonprofits ReFED, Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund. The group worked for six months, wrote a report of their findings and will distribute an infographic.
This is the first major move from the newly formed Upcycled Food Association. The trade group launched at the end of last year at the ReFED Food Waste Summit, according to New Hope Network, and is planning to see substantial growth in 2020, using this definition as a platform to launch its other initiatives.
Although the definition the task force developed is pretty straightforward, Ben Gray, chief operations officer of the Upcycled Food Association, said in a release it would help the group "clarify the vision" and be used as the foundation to launch a product certification program later this year.
The trade association was formed as interest in reducing waste and upcycled ingredients has grown. The food waste business was worth about $46.7 billion last year and is predicted to grow 5% over the next decade, according to a study by Future Marketing Insights. The category growth is expected to coincide with shoppers' purchasing decisions increasingly influenced by sustainability. Even during the pandemic, sustainability and food waste remained a issue that consumers care about. Food waste costs retailers about $18.2 billion a year, according to ReFED. Upcycling advocates say that using upcycled ingredients can help lower the more than 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases that are generated by food waste, according to Forbes.
In January, the association said it would focus on growing its membership, and it currently has more than 70 members. From upcycled fruit with The Ugly Company to drinks made with avocado seeds from Hidden Gem Beverage Co., the members are located mostly in the U.S. and sell roughly 400 different upcycled food products. Many startups are leading the way in the upcycled segment and are trying to find unique ways to break out in this billion-dollar market.
A formal association with a definition and a forthcoming certification process could encourage additional brands to join the UFA and push more big players in the industry to increase their stake in this category. There have been some larger corporations that have gotten into the category in recent years, but it hasn't always worked out. AB InBev backed beverage startup Canvas to develop fiber-rich drinks using leftover grains, while Tyson Foods created protein crisps Yappah from leftover chicken trim, vegetable puree and pulp from juicing and donated spent grain from Molson Coors. But Tyson shut down production of its upcycled Yappah snacks last year after mixed reviews. Despite the category growth, some brands have found it challenging to get consumers to try products made from waste.
But more promising partnerships are being formed. Cargill and Renmatix are currently exploring approaches for upcycling plant materials into functional food ingredients.
Even though there have been more products developed with upcycled ingredients, more than one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, according to the World Resources Institute. If this definition and association get more companies interested in upcycled ingredients, it could end up being a lucrative, cost-saving move.