From trash to table: the booming business of upcycling

From trash to table: the booming business of upcycling

By
Louise Burfitt
August 4, 2020

A banana skin. An unsold restaurant meal. And some vegetable peelings. What’s the connection? Well, not so long ago, consumers and business owners alike wouldn’t have thought twice about popping them all in the bin.

But the way we view waste is changing. It’s clear that our linear take-make-dispose model is broken. And circularity has become any self-respecting innovator’s buzzword du jour.

The upcycling and redistribution business is booming. In 2019, the market for products made from food waste alone was estimated to be worth around $46.7 billion, with a predicted 5% CAGR over the next ten years. While large retailers like Tesco have focused on tackling surplus in their supply chains, a growing community of start-ups are busy transforming formerly unloved ingredients into tomorrow’s tasty treats.

Today we dumpster dive into the wonderful world of waste to explore how your business can benefit from more circular approaches in your supply chain and product or offer development.

Trend drivers: the green economy, bargain buys and new revenue streams


When it comes to food waste, two factors seem to be driving a shift in consumer behaviour. On the one hand, we have green consumers, who are willing to spend up to 20% more on environmentally-sound products. This group will typically be seduced by premium upcycled products that proudly highlight their environmental credentials in their marketing messages. While others recognise that less food waste means more money in their pockets and tend to be drawn to redistribution models that make ugly produce or leftover meals available at discounted prices.

At the same time, businesses are recognizing that adopting more circular approaches may not only increase their profit margin but can also give them a competitive advantage. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business owners to find new ways of realigning supply and demand and rethink how they manage their resources. Surplus ingredients that may have previously been written off as production losses have suddenly become opportunities to create additional revenue streams, while sales of core products or services may be in flux.  


Redistribution: Platform models and direct to consumer sales


Redistribution models spot where there’s an untapped market for items that are currently lost in the supply chain and create new sales channels.

Platform models typically connect those with surplus ingredients, products or meals with others looking for a bargain or a freebie. Too Good to Go – an app that sells on unsold food from cafés, stores and restaurants - has quickly become the world’s largest B2C marketplace for surplus food, selling over two million "magic bags” since 2016. And OLIO, the food sharing app, has already raised $10+ million in funding and boasts a community of two million users.

Other entrepreneurs have developed models that repackage surplus goods into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Ässbar, for example, sells on yesterday’s bread at reduced prices through an ever-growing number of stores across Switzerland. US-based Misfit Market recently raised $85 million in a Series B funding round to scale up their ‘ugly’ fruit and veg subscription boxes. Along with their competitors - Imperfect Foods and ODDBOX - they’ve reported a huge rise in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic and grew 400% from May to July this year.

Upcycling: fruit, veg and bread become snacks, beer and Bloody Marys


Over the last few years, upcycling has attracted a lot of attention as a green and promisingly profitable business model. Refed recently counted at least 70 businesses and nonprofits that are creating added-value products from agricultural surplus or manufacturing by-products.

Due to its short shelf life and stringent size and aesthetic standards in retail, fresh produce is a category that is ripe for upcycling innovation. Barnana, a US-based snack brand, has made millions selling tortilla chips, crisps and bites made from bruised or overripe bananas that were previously left to rot on plantations. While other creative minds have transformed vegetable pulp into crisps, surplus products into relish or chutneys, veg trimmings into pizza sauces and cucumber-infused water into Bloody Mary mixes.

Bakery is another category with huge potential. Due to a mismatch between supply and demand, around 46 million slices of bread are wasted every year. But UK-based Toast ale chose to see this as an opportunity and have since transformed nearly two million slices into a unique range of ‘planet-saving, palate-pleasing’ lagers and ales. On the other side of the globe, scientists in Singapore have developed a novel fermentation process that transforms bread into a non-dairy probiotic drink and are now looking for commercial partners to help them bring their product to market.  

Getting it right, getting it wrong: WTRMLN WTR and Yappah


Back in 2012, Jody Levy met Harlan Berger at a conference and happened to get talking about the tons of watermelons that get wasted every year. Just a few months later, the pair founded WTRMLN WTR - a company that transforms ‘ugly’ watermelons into cold-pressed juice. Initially focused on fitness fanatics, the team decided to broaden its target market to fans of natural, clean nutrition, looking for a healthier but flavoursome alternative to fizzy drinks or sugary juices. Thanks to Levy’s expertise in experiential marketing and early celebrity investment, the company was reporting 300% growth by 2016 and has since made the leap from health food stores to mainstream supermarkets.

Picking up on the buzz around circular approaches, Tyson Foods’ newly launched Innovation Lab decided to rapidly prototype and launch an upcycled product in 2018. Seven months later, the Yappah protein crisp - made from chicken trim, vegetable purée and spent grain from brewer, Molson Coors - was rolled out to retailers. Yappah was touted as a premium product for young, on the go, health and sustainability-oriented consumers. But despite a promising Indiegogo campaign, post-launch reviews were mixed and the brand was discontinued the following year. So what went wrong? Product reviews showed that some felt the team’s decision to compete with beef jerky, rather than crisps, was misjudged and consumers thought that the price point was too high.

Making it mainstream: resource availability and functional benefits


Redistribution and upcycling are approaches that can help businesses to find a better balance between financial and environmental priorities. But products that rely on their waste-busting credentials alone may have a harder time making it mainstream.

Aspiring entrepreneurs will need to make sure that the surplus items that their model draws on are constantly available so that their business model can scale and is sustainable in every sense of the word. And those that combine value-based messaging with financial or functional benefits are most likely to successfully turn their trash into treasure.

Business opportunities

  • Interested in creating your own upcycled products? As well as fruit, veg and bread waste, experts have also flagged grains, dairy and coffee (see Kaffe Bueno) as categories with significant potential.
  • Team up to innovate. Some of the best upcycling ideas have been created through partnerships. Reach out to companies that might be interested in surplus or by-products in your supply chain and explore ideas.
  • Looking for other ways to reduce food waste? Can’t see any opportunities for redistribution or creating new products from surplus in your business operations? Consider using upcycled reusable or edible packaging, made from sugar cane, potato or beer production by-products instead.

Written by
Louise Burfitt

Louise is an editor and writer based in Oxfordshire. When her nose isn’t buried in a dictionary, you’re most likely to find her taking long weekend walks or nurturing herbs and vegetables in her container garden.

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A banana skin. An unsold restaurant meal. And some vegetable peelings. What’s the connection? Well, not so long ago, consumers and business owners alike wouldn’t have thought twice about popping them all in the bin.

But the way we view waste is changing. It’s clear that our linear take-make-dispose model is broken. And circularity has become any self-respecting innovator’s buzzword du jour.

The upcycling and redistribution business is booming. In 2019, the market for products made from food waste alone was estimated to be worth around $46.7 billion, with a predicted 5% CAGR over the next ten years. While large retailers like Tesco have focused on tackling surplus in their supply chains, a growing community of start-ups are busy transforming formerly unloved ingredients into tomorrow’s tasty treats.

Today we dumpster dive into the wonderful world of waste to explore how your business can benefit from more circular approaches in your supply chain and product or offer development.

Trend drivers: the green economy, bargain buys and new revenue streams


When it comes to food waste, two factors seem to be driving a shift in consumer behaviour. On the one hand, we have green consumers, who are willing to spend up to 20% more on environmentally-sound products. This group will typically be seduced by premium upcycled products that proudly highlight their environmental credentials in their marketing messages. While others recognise that less food waste means more money in their pockets and tend to be drawn to redistribution models that make ugly produce or leftover meals available at discounted prices.

At the same time, businesses are recognizing that adopting more circular approaches may not only increase their profit margin but can also give them a competitive advantage. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business owners to find new ways of realigning supply and demand and rethink how they manage their resources. Surplus ingredients that may have previously been written off as production losses have suddenly become opportunities to create additional revenue streams, while sales of core products or services may be in flux.  


Redistribution: Platform models and direct to consumer sales


Redistribution models spot where there’s an untapped market for items that are currently lost in the supply chain and create new sales channels.

Platform models typically connect those with surplus ingredients, products or meals with others looking for a bargain or a freebie. Too Good to Go – an app that sells on unsold food from cafés, stores and restaurants - has quickly become the world’s largest B2C marketplace for surplus food, selling over two million "magic bags” since 2016. And OLIO, the food sharing app, has already raised $10+ million in funding and boasts a community of two million users.

Other entrepreneurs have developed models that repackage surplus goods into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Ässbar, for example, sells on yesterday’s bread at reduced prices through an ever-growing number of stores across Switzerland. US-based Misfit Market recently raised $85 million in a Series B funding round to scale up their ‘ugly’ fruit and veg subscription boxes. Along with their competitors - Imperfect Foods and ODDBOX - they’ve reported a huge rise in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic and grew 400% from May to July this year.

Upcycling: fruit, veg and bread become snacks, beer and Bloody Marys


Over the last few years, upcycling has attracted a lot of attention as a green and promisingly profitable business model. Refed recently counted at least 70 businesses and nonprofits that are creating added-value products from agricultural surplus or manufacturing by-products.

Due to its short shelf life and stringent size and aesthetic standards in retail, fresh produce is a category that is ripe for upcycling innovation. Barnana, a US-based snack brand, has made millions selling tortilla chips, crisps and bites made from bruised or overripe bananas that were previously left to rot on plantations. While other creative minds have transformed vegetable pulp into crisps, surplus products into relish or chutneys, veg trimmings into pizza sauces and cucumber-infused water into Bloody Mary mixes.

Bakery is another category with huge potential. Due to a mismatch between supply and demand, around 46 million slices of bread are wasted every year. But UK-based Toast ale chose to see this as an opportunity and have since transformed nearly two million slices into a unique range of ‘planet-saving, palate-pleasing’ lagers and ales. On the other side of the globe, scientists in Singapore have developed a novel fermentation process that transforms bread into a non-dairy probiotic drink and are now looking for commercial partners to help them bring their product to market.  

Getting it right, getting it wrong: WTRMLN WTR and Yappah


Back in 2012, Jody Levy met Harlan Berger at a conference and happened to get talking about the tons of watermelons that get wasted every year. Just a few months later, the pair founded WTRMLN WTR - a company that transforms ‘ugly’ watermelons into cold-pressed juice. Initially focused on fitness fanatics, the team decided to broaden its target market to fans of natural, clean nutrition, looking for a healthier but flavoursome alternative to fizzy drinks or sugary juices. Thanks to Levy’s expertise in experiential marketing and early celebrity investment, the company was reporting 300% growth by 2016 and has since made the leap from health food stores to mainstream supermarkets.

Picking up on the buzz around circular approaches, Tyson Foods’ newly launched Innovation Lab decided to rapidly prototype and launch an upcycled product in 2018. Seven months later, the Yappah protein crisp - made from chicken trim, vegetable purée and spent grain from brewer, Molson Coors - was rolled out to retailers. Yappah was touted as a premium product for young, on the go, health and sustainability-oriented consumers. But despite a promising Indiegogo campaign, post-launch reviews were mixed and the brand was discontinued the following year. So what went wrong? Product reviews showed that some felt the team’s decision to compete with beef jerky, rather than crisps, was misjudged and consumers thought that the price point was too high.

Making it mainstream: resource availability and functional benefits


Redistribution and upcycling are approaches that can help businesses to find a better balance between financial and environmental priorities. But products that rely on their waste-busting credentials alone may have a harder time making it mainstream.

Aspiring entrepreneurs will need to make sure that the surplus items that their model draws on are constantly available so that their business model can scale and is sustainable in every sense of the word. And those that combine value-based messaging with financial or functional benefits are most likely to successfully turn their trash into treasure.

Business opportunities

  • Interested in creating your own upcycled products? As well as fruit, veg and bread waste, experts have also flagged grains, dairy and coffee (see Kaffe Bueno) as categories with significant potential.
  • Team up to innovate. Some of the best upcycling ideas have been created through partnerships. Reach out to companies that might be interested in surplus or by-products in your supply chain and explore ideas.
  • Looking for other ways to reduce food waste? Can’t see any opportunities for redistribution or creating new products from surplus in your business operations? Consider using upcycled reusable or edible packaging, made from sugar cane, potato or beer production by-products instead.

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A banana skin. An unsold restaurant meal. And some vegetable peelings. What’s the connection? Well, not so long ago, consumers and business owners alike wouldn’t have thought twice about popping them all in the bin.

But the way we view waste is changing. It’s clear that our linear take-make-dispose model is broken. And circularity has become any self-respecting innovator’s buzzword du jour.

The upcycling and redistribution business is booming. In 2019, the market for products made from food waste alone was estimated to be worth around $46.7 billion, with a predicted 5% CAGR over the next ten years. While large retailers like Tesco have focused on tackling surplus in their supply chains, a growing community of start-ups are busy transforming formerly unloved ingredients into tomorrow’s tasty treats.

Today we dumpster dive into the wonderful world of waste to explore how your business can benefit from more circular approaches in your supply chain and product or offer development.

Trend drivers: the green economy, bargain buys and new revenue streams


When it comes to food waste, two factors seem to be driving a shift in consumer behaviour. On the one hand, we have green consumers, who are willing to spend up to 20% more on environmentally-sound products. This group will typically be seduced by premium upcycled products that proudly highlight their environmental credentials in their marketing messages. While others recognise that less food waste means more money in their pockets and tend to be drawn to redistribution models that make ugly produce or leftover meals available at discounted prices.

At the same time, businesses are recognizing that adopting more circular approaches may not only increase their profit margin but can also give them a competitive advantage. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business owners to find new ways of realigning supply and demand and rethink how they manage their resources. Surplus ingredients that may have previously been written off as production losses have suddenly become opportunities to create additional revenue streams, while sales of core products or services may be in flux.  


Redistribution: Platform models and direct to consumer sales


Redistribution models spot where there’s an untapped market for items that are currently lost in the supply chain and create new sales channels.

Platform models typically connect those with surplus ingredients, products or meals with others looking for a bargain or a freebie. Too Good to Go – an app that sells on unsold food from cafés, stores and restaurants - has quickly become the world’s largest B2C marketplace for surplus food, selling over two million "magic bags” since 2016. And OLIO, the food sharing app, has already raised $10+ million in funding and boasts a community of two million users.

Other entrepreneurs have developed models that repackage surplus goods into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Ässbar, for example, sells on yesterday’s bread at reduced prices through an ever-growing number of stores across Switzerland. US-based Misfit Market recently raised $85 million in a Series B funding round to scale up their ‘ugly’ fruit and veg subscription boxes. Along with their competitors - Imperfect Foods and ODDBOX - they’ve reported a huge rise in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic and grew 400% from May to July this year.

Upcycling: fruit, veg and bread become snacks, beer and Bloody Marys


Over the last few years, upcycling has attracted a lot of attention as a green and promisingly profitable business model. Refed recently counted at least 70 businesses and nonprofits that are creating added-value products from agricultural surplus or manufacturing by-products.

Due to its short shelf life and stringent size and aesthetic standards in retail, fresh produce is a category that is ripe for upcycling innovation. Barnana, a US-based snack brand, has made millions selling tortilla chips, crisps and bites made from bruised or overripe bananas that were previously left to rot on plantations. While other creative minds have transformed vegetable pulp into crisps, surplus products into relish or chutneys, veg trimmings into pizza sauces and cucumber-infused water into Bloody Mary mixes.

Bakery is another category with huge potential. Due to a mismatch between supply and demand, around 46 million slices of bread are wasted every year. But UK-based Toast ale chose to see this as an opportunity and have since transformed nearly two million slices into a unique range of ‘planet-saving, palate-pleasing’ lagers and ales. On the other side of the globe, scientists in Singapore have developed a novel fermentation process that transforms bread into a non-dairy probiotic drink and are now looking for commercial partners to help them bring their product to market.  

Getting it right, getting it wrong: WTRMLN WTR and Yappah


Back in 2012, Jody Levy met Harlan Berger at a conference and happened to get talking about the tons of watermelons that get wasted every year. Just a few months later, the pair founded WTRMLN WTR - a company that transforms ‘ugly’ watermelons into cold-pressed juice. Initially focused on fitness fanatics, the team decided to broaden its target market to fans of natural, clean nutrition, looking for a healthier but flavoursome alternative to fizzy drinks or sugary juices. Thanks to Levy’s expertise in experiential marketing and early celebrity investment, the company was reporting 300% growth by 2016 and has since made the leap from health food stores to mainstream supermarkets.

Picking up on the buzz around circular approaches, Tyson Foods’ newly launched Innovation Lab decided to rapidly prototype and launch an upcycled product in 2018. Seven months later, the Yappah protein crisp - made from chicken trim, vegetable purée and spent grain from brewer, Molson Coors - was rolled out to retailers. Yappah was touted as a premium product for young, on the go, health and sustainability-oriented consumers. But despite a promising Indiegogo campaign, post-launch reviews were mixed and the brand was discontinued the following year. So what went wrong? Product reviews showed that some felt the team’s decision to compete with beef jerky, rather than crisps, was misjudged and consumers thought that the price point was too high.

Making it mainstream: resource availability and functional benefits


Redistribution and upcycling are approaches that can help businesses to find a better balance between financial and environmental priorities. But products that rely on their waste-busting credentials alone may have a harder time making it mainstream.

Aspiring entrepreneurs will need to make sure that the surplus items that their model draws on are constantly available so that their business model can scale and is sustainable in every sense of the word. And those that combine value-based messaging with financial or functional benefits are most likely to successfully turn their trash into treasure.

Business opportunities

  • Interested in creating your own upcycled products? As well as fruit, veg and bread waste, experts have also flagged grains, dairy and coffee (see Kaffe Bueno) as categories with significant potential.
  • Team up to innovate. Some of the best upcycling ideas have been created through partnerships. Reach out to companies that might be interested in surplus or by-products in your supply chain and explore ideas.
  • Looking for other ways to reduce food waste? Can’t see any opportunities for redistribution or creating new products from surplus in your business operations? Consider using upcycled reusable or edible packaging, made from sugar cane, potato or beer production by-products instead.

A banana skin. An unsold restaurant meal. And some vegetable peelings. What’s the connection? Well, not so long ago, consumers and business owners alike wouldn’t have thought twice about popping them all in the bin.

But the way we view waste is changing. It’s clear that our linear take-make-dispose model is broken. And circularity has become any self-respecting innovator’s buzzword du jour.

The upcycling and redistribution business is booming. In 2019, the market for products made from food waste alone was estimated to be worth around $46.7 billion, with a predicted 5% CAGR over the next ten years. While large retailers like Tesco have focused on tackling surplus in their supply chains, a growing community of start-ups are busy transforming formerly unloved ingredients into tomorrow’s tasty treats.

Today we dumpster dive into the wonderful world of waste to explore how your business can benefit from more circular approaches in your supply chain and product or offer development.

Trend drivers: the green economy, bargain buys and new revenue streams


When it comes to food waste, two factors seem to be driving a shift in consumer behaviour. On the one hand, we have green consumers, who are willing to spend up to 20% more on environmentally-sound products. This group will typically be seduced by premium upcycled products that proudly highlight their environmental credentials in their marketing messages. While others recognise that less food waste means more money in their pockets and tend to be drawn to redistribution models that make ugly produce or leftover meals available at discounted prices.

At the same time, businesses are recognizing that adopting more circular approaches may not only increase their profit margin but can also give them a competitive advantage. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business owners to find new ways of realigning supply and demand and rethink how they manage their resources. Surplus ingredients that may have previously been written off as production losses have suddenly become opportunities to create additional revenue streams, while sales of core products or services may be in flux.  


Redistribution: Platform models and direct to consumer sales


Redistribution models spot where there’s an untapped market for items that are currently lost in the supply chain and create new sales channels.

Platform models typically connect those with surplus ingredients, products or meals with others looking for a bargain or a freebie. Too Good to Go – an app that sells on unsold food from cafés, stores and restaurants - has quickly become the world’s largest B2C marketplace for surplus food, selling over two million "magic bags” since 2016. And OLIO, the food sharing app, has already raised $10+ million in funding and boasts a community of two million users.

Other entrepreneurs have developed models that repackage surplus goods into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Ässbar, for example, sells on yesterday’s bread at reduced prices through an ever-growing number of stores across Switzerland. US-based Misfit Market recently raised $85 million in a Series B funding round to scale up their ‘ugly’ fruit and veg subscription boxes. Along with their competitors - Imperfect Foods and ODDBOX - they’ve reported a huge rise in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic and grew 400% from May to July this year.

Upcycling: fruit, veg and bread become snacks, beer and Bloody Marys


Over the last few years, upcycling has attracted a lot of attention as a green and promisingly profitable business model. Refed recently counted at least 70 businesses and nonprofits that are creating added-value products from agricultural surplus or manufacturing by-products.

Due to its short shelf life and stringent size and aesthetic standards in retail, fresh produce is a category that is ripe for upcycling innovation. Barnana, a US-based snack brand, has made millions selling tortilla chips, crisps and bites made from bruised or overripe bananas that were previously left to rot on plantations. While other creative minds have transformed vegetable pulp into crisps, surplus products into relish or chutneys, veg trimmings into pizza sauces and cucumber-infused water into Bloody Mary mixes.

Bakery is another category with huge potential. Due to a mismatch between supply and demand, around 46 million slices of bread are wasted every year. But UK-based Toast ale chose to see this as an opportunity and have since transformed nearly two million slices into a unique range of ‘planet-saving, palate-pleasing’ lagers and ales. On the other side of the globe, scientists in Singapore have developed a novel fermentation process that transforms bread into a non-dairy probiotic drink and are now looking for commercial partners to help them bring their product to market.  

Getting it right, getting it wrong: WTRMLN WTR and Yappah


Back in 2012, Jody Levy met Harlan Berger at a conference and happened to get talking about the tons of watermelons that get wasted every year. Just a few months later, the pair founded WTRMLN WTR - a company that transforms ‘ugly’ watermelons into cold-pressed juice. Initially focused on fitness fanatics, the team decided to broaden its target market to fans of natural, clean nutrition, looking for a healthier but flavoursome alternative to fizzy drinks or sugary juices. Thanks to Levy’s expertise in experiential marketing and early celebrity investment, the company was reporting 300% growth by 2016 and has since made the leap from health food stores to mainstream supermarkets.

Picking up on the buzz around circular approaches, Tyson Foods’ newly launched Innovation Lab decided to rapidly prototype and launch an upcycled product in 2018. Seven months later, the Yappah protein crisp - made from chicken trim, vegetable purée and spent grain from brewer, Molson Coors - was rolled out to retailers. Yappah was touted as a premium product for young, on the go, health and sustainability-oriented consumers. But despite a promising Indiegogo campaign, post-launch reviews were mixed and the brand was discontinued the following year. So what went wrong? Product reviews showed that some felt the team’s decision to compete with beef jerky, rather than crisps, was misjudged and consumers thought that the price point was too high.

Making it mainstream: resource availability and functional benefits


Redistribution and upcycling are approaches that can help businesses to find a better balance between financial and environmental priorities. But products that rely on their waste-busting credentials alone may have a harder time making it mainstream.

Aspiring entrepreneurs will need to make sure that the surplus items that their model draws on are constantly available so that their business model can scale and is sustainable in every sense of the word. And those that combine value-based messaging with financial or functional benefits are most likely to successfully turn their trash into treasure.

Business opportunities

  • Interested in creating your own upcycled products? As well as fruit, veg and bread waste, experts have also flagged grains, dairy and coffee (see Kaffe Bueno) as categories with significant potential.
  • Team up to innovate. Some of the best upcycling ideas have been created through partnerships. Reach out to companies that might be interested in surplus or by-products in your supply chain and explore ideas.
  • Looking for other ways to reduce food waste? Can’t see any opportunities for redistribution or creating new products from surplus in your business operations? Consider using upcycled reusable or edible packaging, made from sugar cane, potato or beer production by-products instead.

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