Q&A With Upcycled Food Association’s Graham

Julie Gallagher | 13 Aug 2021

Food makers are finding new purpose for ugly fruit, unwanted fish, and a host of previously undesirable ingredients as part of the upcycled foods movement.

SFA News Daily spoke with Leah Graham, marketing director for the Upcycled Food Association about innovation in the space.

What is the Upcycled Food Association and how did it come to be?

In 2019, a group of upcycled businesses came together to form the Upcycled Food Association, which has since grown to a network of hundreds of businesses around the world, from startups to big global corporations. UFA was founded to support the upcycled food industry by serving as the center of gravity for industry knowledge, research, consumer education, and more to support the growth of the industry at large. Our role is to also grow the community of upcycled food businesses and provide them with tools, resources, and the networking needed to build and grow successful upcycled food businesses and business practices. The UFA business network includes more than 170 businesses across 20 countries. Of those companies, 54 percent have CPG products, 22 percent are ingredient suppliers, and 8 percent have both. Many upcycled businesses have developed a unique technology-enabled process or supply chain that separates them from the competition.

How mainstream have upcycled foods become?

According to food AI company, Spoonshot, interest in upcycling grew by 128 percent across business media in the past year. The upcycled industry has been projected by Whole Foods and others to be a major trend and many mainstream online publications have recently highlighted upcycled foods, including Real Simple, Well + Good, and Forbes. From a business perspective, Future Market Insights projected a 5 percent CAGR between now and 2030. Two UFA members, Imperfect and Misfits Market, reached more than $1 billion valuations this year and Comet Bio announced that it’s closed a $22M Series C round. Anheuser-Busch recently invested $100 million in a facility that turns the remnants of barley from brewing into protein and fiber supplements for UFA member company EverGrain. And as part of an initiative of its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, Kroger Co. collaborated with investor, Village Capital in providing ten food entrepreneurs specializing in upcycled foods with $100,000 each in seed grant funding. The future is bright for upcycled foods.

Are these foods mainly shelf-stable or is there representation of upcycled products in perishable goods as well?

Many new products, both shelf-stable and perishable, can be made using upcycled food ingredients such as food, beverages, cosmetics, pet food, personal care products, household cleaners, and dietary supplements; just to name a few.

The stories behind upcycled foods are often so interesting. How are upcycled brands getting their story across to consumers on the shelf and otherwise?

Generally, brands work to tell the impact the product has on reducing food waste, elevating all food to its highest and best use. Blue Stripes has made some really engaging and fun videos to tell the brand story. Take Two has a great impact page.

What is the Upcycled Certified Program?

The Upcycled Certification Program is the world’s first third-party certification program for upcycled food ingredients and products. The flagship of the program is the on-package mark, which helps retailers feature upcycled products on shelf, and indicates to consumers which products are upcycled certified, providing the opportunity to prevent food waste with every purchase. Developed by the Upcycled Food Association, the mark highlights upcycled ingredients and products procured and produced with surplus food or food by-products from manufacturing, that use verifiable supply chains and have a positive impact on the environment.

Which companies have been certified so far?

Our beta program participants include and are either certified, or the in process of becoming certified: Comet Bio, Fruit Smart, Imperfect Foods, Misadventure & Company, Mondelez Snack Futures, Reveal, Pulp Pantry, Netzero, ReGrained, Phelps Pet Products, TBJ Gourmet, Renewal Mill, Take Two, Superfrau, Shameless Pets, and Waju. You can check out all of the Upcycled Certified products on the UFA website. 

What advice would you have for a food maker who is interested in getting into the upcycled space but isn’t sure how to go about sourcing ingredients?

Join the Upcycled Food Association. It’s a great collaboration for sourcing ingredients and sharing key learnings. 

Is there anything more you’d like to share?

According to Project Drawdown, preventing food waste is the number one most effective solution to climate change. Meanwhile, more than $1 trillion of food is wasted each year. As consumers seek to be more sustainable, and businesses seek to increase profits, the upcycled industry presents a rare win-win opportunity. Upcycled food offers a way for anyone to prevent food waste with the products they buy. By elevating food that would otherwise be wasted, upcycled food makes better use of the energy expended in growing, transporting, and preparing food.

Related: ReGrained Recieves First Upcycled Food Certification; The Kroger Co. Seeks Second Innovation Fund Cohort.

Image: The Upcycled Food Association