80% of Dole’s Ugly Fruit in Thailand Is Now Upcycled To Fight Food Waste
Dole, the world’s largest fruit and vegetable producer, says that in its push to tackle food waste, it has managed to prevent 80% of “ugly” fruit from going to waste from its Thailand farms. Instead, less-than-pretty produce is being upcycled and repurposed into new products—and the corporation now wants to get this figure up to 100% and eliminate fruit loss entirely by 2025.
Dole Sunshine says it is upcycling 80% of the “ugly” fruit that would otherwise be discarded as waste in its Thailand farms. It has found new ways to repurpose fruit, from turning banana leaves into packaging to developing snacks made from unaesthetic veggies. Or even turning half-rotten misshapen produce into electricity by processing it in biogas facilities.
Over in the Philippines, the company recently began turning its pineapple leaves to new fibres to make the vegan leather Piñatex, partnering with the startup Ananas Anam for the initiative.
Fighting food waste
Ultimately, Dole says it wants to repurpose 100% of all the “ugly” fruit in its Thailand farms to achieve zero fruit loss by 2025. The company first announced its ambitious goal in 2020, as part of its push to reach net-zero carbon emissions before the end of the decade.
Food waste is one of the largest contributors to global heating, driving as much as 10% of global GHG emissions. Every year, the world throws out nearly one billion tonnes of food—931 million to be exact, according to the UN’s latest report.
At the time of announcing its initial plan back in 2020, president of Dole, Pier Luigi Sigismondi, said: “If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.”
No more fossil fuel-based packaging
But eliminating food loss is just one part of Dole’s multi-pronged plan, the corporation says in its updated pledge for 2021. It says it wants to eliminate all fossil fuel-based packaging by 2025—and that means no more plastic wrap, stickers and bags.
Currently, Dole says it is working hard to shift towards paper or pulp-based bowls instead of plastic pouches, and will be getting rid of all plastic-based stickers on its fresh fruit by 2022. In South Korea, for instance, it has begun using paper straps for its bananas.
“Change starts by taking responsibility for our own actions and the first step is the hardest,” said Sigismondi, pledging the company will continue to “do better by eliminating waste and achieving carbon neutrality.”
Big food facing big pressure
Dole’s move is likely a direct response to the growing pressure big businesses are now facing to clean up their act. Within the food industry, large brands now face growing scrutiny from consumers, who now believe that companies have a responsibility to take both environmental and social action. Dole rival Del Monte, for instance, is now working with startups like Apeel to fight food waste too, using the firm’s plant-based protective coating to prevent its avocados from spoiling.
According to a recent global survey conducted by Wunderman Thompson, 86% expect businesses to “play their part” to solve climate change and social inequality, with 75% saying there is now a “higher bar” for businesses in the post-pandemic world.
When it comes to food purchases, another global poll by Kerry found that half of all shoppers are factoring in sustainability as a “minimum standard” for brands. It also revealed that consumers want food companies to offer more nutritious products too.
Dole, in addition to making a series of sustainability promises, has taken heed to this trend as well, promising to eliminate all processed sugars in its entire portfolio by 2025. At the moment, the company is working to reformulate its products, with 47% already achieving the zero processed sugar goal.
‘Upcycling’ promises to turn food waste into your next meal
How would you like to dig into a “recycled” snack? Or take a swig of juice with “reprocessed” ingredients made from other food by-products? Without the right marketing, these don’t sound like the most appetizing options.
Enter “upcycling.” That’s the relatively recent term for the age-old concept of using low-valued foods or food processing by-products to generate new food products. Time-honoured examples of this concept include sausages made from meat scraps and jams or jellies made from overripe fruit. In many cases, this waste would have otherwise been used as animal feed or sent to the compost pile.
The Upcycled Food Association defines upcycled foods as those that “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.”
An official definition may allow manufacturers to market to a target audience and encourage consumers and food processors to consider upcycled products. The Association launched a new Upcycled Certification Standard in 2021. Soon enough you may notice an upcycled label on items at the grocery store.
Food waste is a monumental problem, and this nascent trend, with a buzzy new name designed to appeal to consumers, could help. As an economist and a food engineer, we’ve worked with food companies to minimise waste and find markets for underutilised or otherwise trashed food items. Here’s how upcycling works.
Massive amounts of food get wasted
Globally, more than one-third of all current food production will be lost or wasted somewhere between the farm and the consumer’s garbage can. Food “losses” may be due to improper handling or storage conditions on the farm or in the food distribution process, whereas food “waste” often results from limited retail shelf life or consumers simply not making use of perishable products before they spoil in the fridge.
Worldwide annual loss estimates for highly perishable crops, such as fruits and vegetables, exceed 20%, with certain leafy greens and tropical fruits exceeding 40%. In the US alone, estimates of food loss and waste in recent years have ranged from $200 billion to $300 billion. Both the WTO and the UN FAO have increased emphasis on preventing food insecurity by minimising food loss and food waste.
In addition to the financial impact, food waste also contributes to environmental problems. The FAO estimates that about 8% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to the carbon footprint of food loss and waste. Landfills generate greenhouse gas emissions, and recent US EPA estimates indicate food waste is the single largest contributor to landfill volume, making up more than a fifth of what ends up at the dump.
In addition, when food is wasted, all of the natural resources used to produce the food, including water, energy and land resources, are wasted.
Peels, shells and past-their-prime ingredients
From an economics standpoint, finding market outlets for otherwise wasted products makes sense, and the food industry recognises that fact. Much of what’s left over as waste once a food is processed contains valuable nutritional components, even though it’s currently only used for animal feed or just thrown away.
Fortunately, current laws require animal feed to be treated the same as human food, so many waste streams are already handled using sanitary practices and are safe for human consumption.
A number of economically viable upcycled products are currently on the market. Fruit pomace – all the fibrous bits left after fruit juice production – bolsters the flavour and nutritional content of snack foods. Wheat middlings – everything left after milling that’s not flour – are added to breakfast cereals to increase the content of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Whey protein from cheese production increases the protein content of health bars and protein shakes.
There’s flour made from the pulp by-products of soybean and almond milk production, which is sold as baking mixes or upcycled flours. There’s craft beer that uses surplus unsold bread as the fermentation substrate. One group collects and distributes second-tier produce before it goes bad.
Other examples include pecan shell flour, dried vegetable peels as soup ingredients, and powders made from waste fruits and vegetables that can be added to beverages and snack bars.
With our colleagues here at the Robert M Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State, we’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of products that would be considered upcycled foods.
Ideas for new upcycled products come from researchers within our facility who identify a waste stream with untapped potential, or they originate with an entrepreneur who has a product idea. Either way, interdisciplinary teams here brainstorm ideas, create experimental prototypes and eventually conduct sensory evaluations – addressing the look, taste, aroma or texture of a potential new product.
One recent example is the creation of a new snack chip from brewer’s spent grain, the solid waste generated in the beer-brewing industry. Another current project is the creation of Kpomo. Also known as Ponmo or Kanda in Nigeria, where it’s traditionally popular, this food is made from beef hide that’s been cleaned and precooked.
With any food product, consumer acceptance depends largely on taste, convenience and price. Moving forward, food processors will still need new products made from waste resources to make economic sense. But research has shown that the term “upcycled” as a proxy for environmental sustainability on a food label resonates with both millennials and baby boomers and can make them more likely to buy these products. Foods labelled “upcycled” await your shopping dollars now.
We had predicted in 2020 that this space is going to see significant action in the coming years. This is especially true now that upcycling has a formal definition and a certification program. The Upcycled Certification Program is currently the only third-party certification program for upcycled food ingredients and products globally.
Upcycling still remains a niche concept among consumers, but will become more popular as more products and companies highlight these credentials and efforts. In the coming year, companies are going to take a hard look at the byproducts of their manufacturing processes and figure out ways of making them consumable (and not just as food) and cutting down waste.
Interest in upcycling grew by 128% in business media compared to a decline of 32% in consumer media over the last year
As upcycling becomes more accepted, the next focus is going to have to be to scale up the process and build a secure infrastructure. We also expect to see greater synergies as large established players look to invest in this space to garner the advantages of potentially reducing the food waste and improving their sustainability creds with consumers.
“Over the next year, upcycling is going to move from niche food and drink launches and break out into the mainstream with greater specifics on the derived ingredients and their uses. We’ll even likely start to see new claims on-pack aimed at promoting the use of upcycled ingredients and reducing food waste.”
Finding Solutions To Food Waste
What are some South Africans doing to make sure good food doesn’t go to waste? Nick Cowen takes a look.
Nearly every well-off household in South Africa is guilty of wasting food. Between meal plans falling through and the odd power cut, tossing out the contents of a stocked fridge can become a bad habit.
But here’s a fact that may give you food for thought: our country collectively throws away in excess of 10-million tonnes of food per year. And this isn’t just families throwing away food. Restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other vendors and eateries are forced by law to dispose of leftover ingredients and food that is past its sell-by date, even if it’s still fit to eat.
In a country like South Africa, where many of our citizens live in such poverty they can’t afford to feed themselves, this practice doesn’t just seem wasteful, but cruel. According to a 2015 report by Statistics SA, around a quarter of South Africa’s population – roughly 13.8-million people – live below the Food Poverty Line (an index that measures the rand value needed to purchase enough food to meet one’s minimum energy intake).
“According to Oxfam, enough food is thrown away every three days in South Africa to fill the Cape Town Stadium. Annually we fill 127 or so stadiums with wasted food,” says Ali Conn, founder of the food charity UPcycle. “If that’s not irresponsible, I don’t know what is.”
Turning discarded food into meals
Conn was part of the Real Junk Food Project, an Australian initiative that was set to land on South African shores in 2016. It was aimed at transforming food discarded by eateries and markets into meals for the poor, cooked by professional chefs. It has been a huge success in the UK, where the use of food banks has become essential in combating food poverty. But Conn says the project ran into problems in South Africa.
“There are myriad ways in which we’re different from the UK,” says Conn – including our history, governmental policies, and the numbers of people struggling for survival on our streets.
“So the Real Junk Food Project (or that specific model) didn’t quite fit South African culture.”
The project’s failure inspired Conn to set up a local adaptation of that model: UPcycle. This initiative intercepts “wasted” and surplus foods from retailers and restaurants – food that might have reached its sell-by date, but not yet its expiry date.
“With the help of some of Cape Town’s top chefs we reimagine the food, creating nutritious and wholesome meals that are then fed to the hungry on the streets.”
Conn says UPcycle’s aims go beyond saving food from landfills and helping the impoverished. In order for the initiative to be truly successful, it needs to help change the mindset of South Africans about both food waste and the poor.
“South Africans can just try to be more conscious about what they buy and what they need to buy,” says Conn. “But further to that, just empathise with the homeless people around you. They’re obviously in a tough place, emotionally and physically.”
UCook, UPcycle’s partner in fighting hunger
UPcycle’s efforts to stop food being wasted are aided by UCook. This is a service that sources healthy ingredients for clients and delivers them, along with recipe cards, to their door. Not only does this aid organic growers, it cuts down on food wastage, since deliveries contain only the ingredients needed to make a meal.
Its emphasis on preventing food wastage makes UCook a natural fit to aid UPcycle. Founder David Torr says the service frequently helps with events and sources ingredients for UPcycle’s efforts.
“We are committed to assisting the UPcycle project by donating all food wastage to their cause,” says Torr.
“The only real challenge we face is timeously distributing the often quite varied assortment of goods to their events, and then getting the right creative food brains on board to assist with turning an often-unorthodox set of ingredients into great food to feed the hungry.”
According to a CSIR study in 2013, the average South African generates 177kg of food waste annually (a third of the food they buy).
Breaking the cycle with upcycled food
By Jesse Klein
Soon — just as the plastic milk gallon in the dairy aisle and the beer can in the alcohol section have the three arrows signaling the packaging is recyclable — food products at grocery stores will have a new label to indicate the product is made with upcycled ingredients.
Upcycling takes byproducts of a process — in this case, food production — that normally would be considered trash and incorporates them into new products for consumption. On the eve of the Upcycled Food Association’s (UFA) launch of a certification and packaging label for upcycled products, Alesha Hartley, certification manager of the Upcycled Food Association, and four member companies talked about the challenges facing the upcycled food world at GreenBiz Group’s Circularity 21 conference.
Matriark Foods takes remnants of fresh fruits and vegetables from farms, and creates vegetable broths and purees for schools, hospitals and food banks. But the hardest part for the company wasn’t the food, it was the paperwork.
“I think if we knew how complicated that would have been before we started, maybe we would have given up before we even started,” said Anna Hammond, founder and CEO of Matriark. “But compliance is huge.”
Food safety is an essential part of any food business, but with upcycled food, it’s even more of a hurdle. According to Hammond, her company had to invent some processes to become compliant because upcycling is such a new sector of the food industry.
“It’s just part of the process of starting a new movement in food and changing the food system at any kind of impactful scale also [requires] figuring out that level of detail,” she said.
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The new certification from UFA is a step toward making the process easier and more streamlined for future businesses.
“Having the standard that was defined and is now being certified against adds a whole other layer of trust and transparency,” said Dan Kurzrock, co-founder and chief grain officer at Regrained, a platform that connects grain and malt byproducts from brewers to bakeries that use it in bread loaves, nutritional bars and other food products. “You can create a more unified voice for the upcycled food companies to ultimately convey the message of upcycle food and why it’s important.”
For Sheetal Bahirat, founder and CEO of Hidden Gems Beverage Company, the COVID-19 pandemic created upheaval in her upcycling business. The company creates an antioxidant-rich drink, Reveal, from avocado seeds it rescues from five Mexican restaurants. She and her team collect 400 pounds of avocado seeds a week by physically going to the restaurants every other day to pick them up. Bahirat and her company take the avocado seeds that would have cost the restaurants 8 cents per pound to remove and creates a beverage for them then sell on their menus.
“It’s literally putting money back into their pockets,” she said. Over the next couple years, it’s going to be interesting to see how those plans and layouts are going to change as they have sustainability in mind.
Pre-pandemic, her team previously could have gone into facilities to adjust operations where avocados ended up in the trash to ones where restaurant employees save, wash and freeze the pits and create a process tailored to each store. But now that education had to be conducted without ever being in the same physical space and without seeing the kitchen set up or trash operation.
According to Bahirat, most food facilities and manufacturers are set up for maximum efficiency without caring about how much gets wasted. How Hidden Gems works with restaurants is a small step towards shifting the focus of those ingrained systems.
“Over the next couple years, it’s going to be interesting to see how those plans and layouts are going to change as they have sustainability in mind,” she said.
Alex Waite is looking towards educating consumers to take her upcycled pet food business to the next level. Her company, Shameless Pets, creates dog treats from leftover veggies, fruits and even some products inedible or undesirable to humans such as salmon skin and eggshells.
“One of our bigger challenges is really helping people understand what upcycling is,” she said. “I think the perception around upcycling can sometimes be gross. And we’re fighting that battle to really help people understand what it actually means and how that translates into food safety.”
“We don’t want to yuck the yum,” Kurzrock added.
Upcycled food trend turns waste into ingredients found on store shelves
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and lately, that even applies to the food we eat.
Upcycled foods are made from ingredients that would usually be thrown out. They’re further processed into marketable products, reducing food waste with a positive impact on the environment.
When Bertha Jimenez moved to the United States from Ecuador for graduate school, she never expected to be on the cutting edge of baking.
“My background was mechanical engineering, so nothing related to baking,” Jimenez told CBS News’ Nancy Chen.
But when she showed up at Keg & Lantern Brewing Company in Brooklyn, New York, with a bucket in hand, head brewer Jeff Lyons had just what she was looking to tap into.
He said the brewery produces a dozen of malt barley barrels on average per week. That spent grain has long been discarded. But with the goal of sustainability, Jimenez co-founded Rise, a company collecting nutritious scraps otherwise thrown away during food production to make flour.
“That’s 12 times the fiber, two times the proteins, and one-third of the carbs. It’s like really, really delicious. And it’s also sustainable,” she said.
They transform that food waste into ingredients for new products in a process called upcycling. Rise’s first target: malted barley.
Jimenez said the best-case scenario for food waste would involve it going into animal feed. The worst case would it have to be put into a landfill.
Instead, she made it something to eat; Jimenez and her team prepared what they call “superflour,” crafted from lagers and pilsners. They got surprising feedback from a chef.
“We said, ‘We are so sorry that it has some flavor.’ He was like, ‘Actually like that’s the part that I really like it,'” she said.
Since launching in 2017, Rise has quickly expanded, partnering with bakeries and restaurants. They’ve also started consulting major companies on how to re-use their waste, including beer giant Anheuser Busch.
While Jimenez says Rise’s flour is the first of its kind, she’s far from alone.
Upcycling was featured as a top trend of 2021 by both Food Network Magazine and Whole Foods. Turner Wyatt created the Upcycled Food Association in 2019. He said upcycled food is a “way of taking otherwise wasted food, and creating something new and nutritious out of it to prevent food waste.”
About 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year globally. The association represents more than 140 businesses across 20 countries. Some are big companies like Dole, while others are startups with product lines devoted solely to upcycled food like snacks made of salmon skins or makeup powder crafted from rice starch.
“There’s already more than 400 upcycled products on the market, but consumers don’t know which ones they are. Because there’s no label, there’s no way to identify which are the upcycled products,” Wyatt said.
Next Thursday on Earth Day, the association will unveil a new label soon to be seen on shelves nationwide. It certifies a net-positive impact on the environment, taking into account manufacturing and transportation.
While the term upcycling is new, the practice is as traditional as simmering scraps for broth as it is innovative.
Ned Spang, an assistant professor of food science and technology at UC Davis, works with the upcycled food association. He said he think upcycling will have an impact on the food supply chain.
“I think it’s less likely to disrupt it and more likely to kind of improve it. It helps us to do more with less what we’re already producing,” Spang said.
At a cacao farm in Costa Rica, the cacao fruit is used almost in its entirety to create a new brand of chocolate called Candid.
Chris Kajander, Candid’s CEO, engineered a way to use part of the fruit that is traditionally thrown out.
“We essentially extract the pulp and remove it, set it aside. And then go about making chocolate the way chocolate is made. Then we reincorporate the pulp as the primary sweetener,” he said.
Launched last year, Candid’s Noons are already in 400 stores nationwide.
The upcycling movement aims to readjust our concept of food, even how we describe it when anything and everything can be ingredients.
“All of these things, it’s been declared a waste because the way we treat it. But if we just changed the supply of how we take it, how we transport it, how we store it, it shouldn’t be a waste. It should be an ingredient. It should be food. It should be whatever you want to make with them, but it shouldn’t go to the landfill,” Jimenez said.
Kfm BizBoost: Patchwork Group
BizBoost with Carl Wastie of Kfm: Patchwork Group
On the November 25, 2020, a month after launching GiNiT Spices, Kenneth Gormley, Co-Founder of Patchwork Group (Pty) Ltd, had a telephonic interview with Carl Wastie, for the BizBoost segment of his show: The Flash Drive.
Kenneth introduced the two brands, namely: GiNiT Spice and GG Food Co. to the Western Cape, and those listening from elsewhere in the world.
Thank you so much to Carl, Zoë and Petrus for the opportunity to be featured on BizBoost on The Flash Drive.
To read the post or listen to the interview directly on KFM, click here.
Would you like to learn more about GiNiT Spices and the Upcycling of Food waste, click here.
How about trying a bottle of GiNiT Spices: Upcycled Post-Distillation Gin Botanicals; purchase here.