Back in the day recycling was the focus. Reduce, reuse, recycle was the mantra. Today, thanks in part to the rather shocking finding that 30-40% of food is wasted, consumers increasingly view recycling as a given and are moving more deeply into sustainability. Chief among the sustainability measures of interest is upcycling, which is the process of transforming by-products or waste materials into end products of value. 

Upcycling presents an opportunity for brands to leverage sustainability in a way that creates brand loyalty, reduces environmental impact, improves transparency and delivers on taste and nutrition. Upcycling is arguably the ultimate win-win. 

Raise the Bar: The bar segment is a crowded one. Upcycling has been one way for new entrants to quickly differentiate themselves and find traction with consumers. 

By using the grain remaining after the beer brewing process, ReGrained has created SuperGrain+ flour offering protein, fiber and micronutrients. As the brand affectionately states, “eat beer,” which nicely sums up the value proposition of turning brewery waste into a healthy snack. And no, there’s no beer in the final product.

In the United Kingdom, Snact is changing the bar scene by using “ugly” fruit to create food-waste fighting snack bars and fruit jerky. With no added sugar, no additives or preservatives and in plastic-free compostable packaging, there’s a legitimate sustainability story from start to finish.  

Spread the News: Ketchup and mustard have dominated the traditional condiment space for years, and while new Mayochup (Kraft Heinz) has made a splash, upcycling is bringing new life into the entire category. 

For “condiments with a conscience,” Rubies in the Rubble takes over-ripe bananas that would otherwise be rejected by supermarkets and turns them into banana ketchup. Similarly, to “fight food waste with relish,” the brand uses over-ripe tomatoes for a spicy tomato relish. 
Another upcycled ingredient taking hold is aquafaba, which is the liquid in a can of chickpeas. Its vegan and can be whipped into a stiff, fluffy foam for baking or used in condiment-making in place of eggs. A good example is Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise which positions itself as an eggless mayo.  


Time to Produce

In addition to the use of imperfect produce, there’s a more concerted effort to not let any part of the produce go to waste. This can be especially powerful because often parts that may otherwise get discarded, like peels, seeds or other parts of the fruit or vegetable, can hold nutritional value. 
That’s the premise of Rind Snacks, which dehydrates whole, non-GMO “superfruits” with their skins and peels intact to maximize nutrition and fiber while minimizing waste. Plus, there’s no added sugar, sulfites or additives. 

Aqua Botanical is an award-winning beverage sold in glass bottles that capitalizes on upcycling. This Australian company has found a way to “harvest” the naturally-occurring water from the fruits and vegetables used in making concentrates for other products. 


Looking Ahead

As upcycling moves from novelty to a more normalized way of doing business, it’s important to recognize upcycled products aren’t automatically cheaper to produce. Fortunately, 73% of Millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable products, and the number of consumers who say they want sustainable food production continues to rise.

Currently, sustainability ranks third in Foodscape METATRENDS, and looking ahead, all signs point towards this continued evolution of what it means to be a sustainable food brand. Product developers and brands are advised to consider upcycling inherent to their new product development efforts and supply chain choices rather than as novelty in order to stay ahead.

Rachel Cheatham is founder and CEO, Foodscape LLC. Learn more about the annual Foodscape METATRENDS findings and upcoming 2019 release at

Originally appeared in the December, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Next Wave Sustainability.