Sustainability in the food and beverage industry is a large and ever-changing topic. That is why Innova Market Insights continually monitors sustainability trends as well as industry news of new directions and technologies. We also monitor global new food and beverage introductions and maintain a database of hundreds of thousands of products—including those with sustainability references—to study and compare. Each year, we also conduct several global consumer surveys to gauge respondents’ knowledge and attitudes around sustainability topics.

We also research and release a Top 10 Trends report each year with our perspective on the key food and beverage trends in the coming year. These tools enable us to identify contemporary trends like upcycling, food waste reduction, and regenerative agriculture that are three of the buzzier aspects of sustainability.

Nurturing Nature

Nurturing Nature is Innova’s No. 2 trend for 2024. This trend captures the evolution of sustainability and environmental protection into key focal points for the food and beverage industry, which has the size and resources to be proactive and make a positive difference to the natural world.

Consumers tell us that they care a lot about the health of the planet and say that it’s today’s most important global issue. They also describe themselves as being at least moderately engaged in various environmental actions. Care about the environment also impacts everyday purchasing for more than half of consumers surveyed globally.

Nurturing Nature overlaps with other Top 10 Trends for 2024, including “Ingredients: Taking the Spotlight,” where star ingredients may have sustainable features. There’s also “Plant-Based: The Rise of Applied Offerings,” because many sustainability-focused foods and ingredients come from plants. Upcycled plant-based ingredients can use the skins, seeds and cellulose components of plants that consumers otherwise would not want to eat.

Reduce Food Waste

Consumers name “food waste reduction” as one of the most tangible actions they can take to help the environment. In fact, more than half of consumers globally tell us that they are “highly aware” of food waste as a global issue. They are likely to take action to reduce food waste, are willing to pay extra for food and beverage products that are dedicated to solving food waste, and would minimize food waste if they had to reduce personal spending.

Consumers’ top at-home strategies for managing their own food waste are (1) reusing leftovers and cooking and (2) preparing smaller portions. Only a small percentage connect buying upcycled products with reducing food waste. This suggests an underused opportunity for manufacturers to connect the dots for consumers between upcycled ingredients and food waste reduction.

Upcycling: New Name, Old Practice

Although consumers may not be as familiar with the term “upcycling,” they can identify the idea.

Think of a tag sale, flea market, or even antique shop. In those classic marketplaces, people purchase items for their use and enjoyment that no longer hold value to the original owner.

Upcycling finds new uses for food and beverage ingredient waste that is not valued by the original manufacturer. Whey protein, for example, is a poster child for upcycling. Once, it was a side-stream byproduct of cheesemaking and yogurt production and it historically was incorporated into animal feed. Today it’s a valued protein source, especially in sports nutrition.

In 2019 and 2020, the Upcycled Food Association (UFA) emerged as the advocate for the process of upcycling ingredients and foods. UFA defines upcycled foods as using “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.”

We have been tracking consumer sentiment toward foods made with upcycled ingredients for several years. Consumer attitudes tell us that upcycling indeed has become an important tool in the sustainability toolbox. Innova Market Insights hosted both a Trends Survey 2024 and Lifestyle & Attitudes Survey 2024 and findings from both showed rising interest in both upcycling as well as regenerative agriculture, another sustainability topic. 

Going Up! Upcycling

Consumers associate nature protection with various actions. When we asked them what comes to mind regarding nature protection, nearly half said recycling and upcycling, as well as reducing food waste. Close to half are upcycling and recycling more, mainly for environmental reasons. A smaller proportion said sustainable farming. Indeed, consumers are more likely to name actions that are within their control.

Upcycled ingredients appeal to a sizable subset of consumers. About four in 10 agree that a product with upcycled ingredients is more appealing, one-third think that upcycled ingredients are higher quality, and one-quarter look for upcycling claims. Positivity about upcycling is driven by younger adult consumers. A solid proportion of consumers of all ages say they would use more upcycled and recycled products as a way to reduce their spending and cut costs.

Innova’s monitoring of new product launches shows that the US and Canada are global leaders in food and beverage launches with an upcycling claim, accounting for more than two-thirds of global upcycling claims in a recent one-year period and continuing to grow.

Certain categories and subcategories stand out for growth in upcycling claims and ingredients. Chocolate bars, beer, and bakery items are gaining traction. Beer and bakery are compatible, with spent grain from beer brewing being incorporated into breads and baking mixes and stale bread being fermented in the brewing process.

Upcycling could benefit from broader exposure combined with humor and environmental benefits. One US brand, Hello, I’m Ugly (The Ugly Company), uses a catchy name, promotes its positive impact on food waste, and is upcycled certified.

Upcycled Ingredients, Products

New sources and technologies are driving growth in the availability and variety of upcycled ingredients.  As mentioned, many fiber ingredients come from side streams of processed foods and beverages.

Pectin and Citrus Fiber: These are common upcycled plant fiber byproducts of fruit juice production.

Ugly fruits and vegetables are upcycled into snacks.

Cascara: Cascara is the fruit of the coffee cherry. Atlanta’s Sustainable Coffee Fruit Company Inc. makes its Up to Good Energy drink with upcycled coffee fruit skins. Officials say one can of Up To Good supplies the caffeine equivalent of a cup of coffee and is rich in antioxidants and functional nutrients. Additionally, the company sources its cascara from small coffee farmers in Central America who practice sustainable agriculture.

Cacaofruit: Chocolate manufacturers, led by Barry Callebaut and its Cabosse Naturals business, have begun to use a sidesteam of chocolate production, the cacaofruit. Cacaofruit pulp, juice, and concentrates are being incorporated into beverages, ice creams, confections, bakery and pastry products.

Spent Grains: One supplier, Upcycled Foods Inc., Berkeley, Calif., has accelerated the repurposing of spent grains from beer brewing into an ingredient flour. The flour is higher in fiber and protein than whole grain flour and also supplies prebiotics.

Acid Whey: While cheese whey is desirable as a protein ingredient, its sour counterpart, acid whey from yogurt production, has too low a pH to be widely usable. Several beverage manufacturers have created shelf-stable sparkling drinks that contain high percentages of upcycled whey purchased from local yogurt makers. Spare Tonic, based in Dobbs Ferry, NY, adds only three other ingredients to the acid whey: fruit, spice, and honey. The company describes its product as rich in electrolytes, including calcium, magnesium and potassium, an excellent source of vitamins B12 and B6, and ideal as a post-workout recovery beverage. Superfrau based in Dorchester, Massachusetts, infuses acid whey from yogurt manufacturing partners with natural flavors and carbonation. The company’s addition of lactase confers benefits: the beverage becomes lactose-free and the lactase breaks down lactose into two sweet monosaccharides that eliminate the need to add sweeteners.

Regenerative Agriculture

One verification group, Soil Regen, describes regenerative agriculture measures as “practices that improve soil health, water quality, community and ecosystem health and promote biodiversity while growing nutritious food profitably.” Actual practices include increasing plant, animal and insect diversity through crop rotations and cover cropping; minimizing soil disturbance; keeping soil covered; reducing synthetic chemical and fertilizer applications; holistic integration of livestock; and keeping living roots in the ground.

In contrast to consumer support of products with upcycled ingredients and action to reduce food waste, regenerative agriculture is an industry-centric action. Growth has been extremely strong, with use of the word “regenerative” in US food and beverage launches increasing more than six-fold since 2019. Growth is supported in part by the emergence of some relatively new regenerative agriculture certifications—Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) and Soil Regen’s Regenerative Verified and Regeneratively Grown. ROC claims jumped in 2023 after a low number of launches between 2020 and 2023.

Many more large US food companies are getting into the act. Last October saw General Mills, Walmart and Sam’s Club announce a collaboration to help accelerate the adoption of regenerative agriculture on 600,000 acres in the U.S. by 2030. This represents the approximate number of acres General Mills engages to source key ingredients for its products sold through Walmart and Sam’s Club. Initial projects will be supported through grants administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and seek to advance regenerative agriculture outcomes across a variety of crops, including wheat, in the Northern and Southern Great Plains.

Last July, Nestlé USA said it was investing to help bring regenerative agriculture practices to wheat farms within its DIGIORNO supply chain. Officials expect the initiative would bring regenerative agriculture practices to more than 100,000 acres of farmland, “nearly double the amount of acres needed to grow the amount of wheat used in DIGIORNO pizza.”

Through partnerships with ADM and Ardent Mills—two primary wheat flour suppliers for DIGIORNO—Nestlé’s investment will benefit wheat farms across Kansas, North Dakota, Indiana, and Missouri. The initiative aims to help wheat farmers in the program employ regenerative agriculture practices in their fields through a combination of financial and technical resources. 

“Today, nearly two-thirds of Nestlé’s global greenhouse gas emissions come from sourcing ingredients, which is rooted in agriculture,” the company said. “As part of its detailed roadmap to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the company aims to source 20% of its key ingredients through regenerative agricultural methods by 2025, and 50% of its key ingredients by 2030.”

Sustainable Future

Upcycling and regenerative agriculture represent two aspects of sustainable actions that span across the supply chain.

Wider scale adoption of upcycling will depend on supply chain efficiencies, cost management, impact on prices, marketing efforts, and, ultimately, consumer demand for products with upcycled ingredients. Regenerative agriculture is a farm-centric action. Like upcycling, however, its success will depend on a combination of supply chain, cost, marketing, and demand, as well as benefits to farmers and farming.

Lu Ann Williams is Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at