Food ingredients featuring sustainable attributes are trending as suppliers seek to develop products that contribute to the development of a circular economy. The earth’s natural resources are bountiful but limited, and consumers are seeking products that contribute to conserving resources and promote environmental health. More food and beverage companies are formulating such ingredients into their products.
A circular economy features three principles — the elimination of waste and pollution, circulating or recycling products and materials, and regeneration of nature.
Trends identified by Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands, the past few years have been related to transparency and building consumer trust. In 2022, the trends now are focused on environmental issues and a shift in key consumer concerns about the health of the planet.
“For the first time ever, more consumers surveyed globally for Innova’s Lifestyle and Attitude Survey say health of the planet is their top global concern, rather than health of the population,” said Lu Ann Williams, insights director.
In the five years ended September 2021, food and beverage launches using upcycled ingredients had a compound annual growth rate of 122%, compared with 59% for products packaged in recycled materials, 49% for products with water-saving claims and 47% for products carrying carbon emissions claims.
“Concerned that overuse of resources could bring about detrimental changes to the quality of life for current and future generations, scientists, academics and innovation leaders in the early 2000s began to promote a practice they called upcycling, which they defined as ‘taking an item that is no longer needed or wanted and giving it new life as something that is either useful or creative,’” said Justin White, vice president of global sales and business development for KeyLeaf Life Sciences, Batavia, Ill. “Upcycling has also been defined as ‘the re-use of discarded materials that results in an increase in value.’”
KeyLeaf has been researching and employing upcycling for nearly 40 years, long before it was called upcycling. The company creates value-added ingredients from parts of plants that are overlooked.
“We actively research and dissect a plant to unlock various potential uses,” Mr. White said. “Typically, hulls, oils, fibers and proteins of a plant provide upcycling opportunities.”
Hemp seeds are an example. The seeds contain nine essential amino acids, along with essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 and other bio-compounds of value. The seeds typically are dehulled, leaving their inner hemp hearts available for use in breakfast cereals or snacks.
“Not only do we fractionate the seed to produce valuable co-products, but we take what might be considered waste from those processes and we analyze further to see what is left over and what organoleptic properties the byproduct may contain that can be exploited and put to use in some way,” Mr. White said. “In additional processing streams, the seed’s protein can be obtained by aqueous or solvent extraction or fractionated from dry press cake and milled into flour and protein powder.
“Sometimes we find a byproduct that is rich in an active compound that can be used in nutraceuticals, and we develop ways to extract that ingredient to concentrate it in a form that has therapeutic value.”
The brewing industry has made strides with the upcycling of spent grains, as has the fruit and vegetable juicing industry with upcycling seeds, skins and pulp. The remaining plant components may be rich in fiber, protein, vitamins and phytonutrients.
“Capturing spent fruits and vegetables and upcycling them into delicious and better-for-you products just makes good sense,” said Scott Forsberg, president, WellVine Chocolates LLC, Santa Rosa, Calif. “Similarly, products that are extracted or refined for their oils, flavors or fragrances are also good candidates, such as olives, seeds and some plants that are harvested to make spices.”
WellVine Chocolates upcycles pressed wine grapes. Starting in 2009, the founders experimented with selling specialty flours, oils and baked foods under the Wholevine name. They were made from pressed wine grapes that are a byproduct of winemaking.
Over the past decade, the company expanded its knowledge of how to capture and harness the benefits of pressed Chardonnay grapes, culminating in the development of WellVine Chardonnay Marc that was first introduced in Vine to Bar chocolate in late 2020.
WellVine Chardonnay Marc contains the entire grape, everything that comes out of the wine press (skin, pulp and seeds). Its usage level in the dark chocolate bar is 15% by weight.
“It softens the bitter edge of the dark chocolate with a subtle fruitiness,” Mr. Forsberg said. “Vine to Bar chocolates are just the beginning. We are actively looking into several other foods, consumer products and dietary supplements, both independently and with partners.
“Later this year, consumers will be able to enjoy a powdered mix of WellVine Chardonnay Marc and high flavanol cacao for use in smoothies and drinks like juice or coffee. This supplement mix will deliver clinically significant levels of flavanols for heart and brain health along with high levels of oligosaccharides for gut health.”
New York City-based Blue Stripes Cacao uses the whole cacao — the fruit, along with shell and beans, which normally are discarded — to create a variety of chocolates and beverages. Applications include granola, trail mix, smoothies and a water made from the cacao fruit pulp, an upcycled waste product of the chocolate industry.
For some ingredient companies, sustainability is part of the process from the beginning. Kemin Food Technologies, Des Moines, Iowa, tackles sustainability in a variety of ways, including reducing its carbon footprint by using rail, intermodal and ocean transport, as well as minimizing packaging waste by using larger totes and bulk transportation.
“We use solar energy/renewable energy,” said Courtney Schwartz, marketing director for Kemin. “We also reduce our environmental impact and preserve soil health with our line of biopesticides and soil amendments that are food-grade, biodegradable, safe for bees and safe for workers.”
A new ingredient line from Kemin — Proteus V functional proteins — is for breaded fried applications. With the ingredient, less oil is absorbed into the product, Ms. Schwartz said. By limiting the amount of oil used, manufacturers reduce the amount of oil waste. The ingredient also helps the coating adhere cleanly to the product, reducing the amount of coating waste that would otherwise be thrown away, along with the oil.
As part of its sustainability efforts, Florida Food Products, Eustis, Fla., produces VegCon vegetable concentrates.
“We source crops at peak harvesting times for ideal flavor, color and nutrition,” said Christopher Naese, vice president, business development and sustainability. “This is produce that may not be attractive enough for retail sales. We provide a great outlet for not-so-pretty veggies without any compromise to finished product quality.”
The BioNutrient business of Sensient Technologies, Hoffman Estates, Ill., upcycles waste streams from the brewing industry to produce yeast derivatives that are bio-nutrient solutions for human applications, such as food cultures and probiotics, as well as animal and plant nutrition.
“We create bio-stimulant ingredients to act as a natural supplement to reduce chemical fertilizers, tying together the concepts of upcycling waste and enabling regenerative agriculture practices that foster natural nutrient cycles and reduce environmental impact,” said Lisha Daniel, research and development director.
“The same is true of our dehydrated onion and garlic processing, where 100% of vegetable byproduct is upcycled as soil amendments,” said Sami VanDrisse, corporate sustainability analyst, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Milwaukee. “Additionally, 100% of the process’s rinse water is recycled to irrigate local farms.”
Holly Adrian, senior marketing manager, added, “Through traditional, Non-GMO Project verified selective breeding programs, agronomists continuously strive to improve yield-per-pound of our high-solid, high-efficiency, dehydrated onions, ultimately reducing natural resource usage, overall greenhouse gas emissions and lowering carbon footprint through the supply chain from farm to fork.”
In 2021, Cargill, Minneapolis, launched a program in the United States called Cargill RegenConnect to accelerate and scale regenerative agriculture practices. The program was built to address the barriers farmers face when adopting new practices. Cargill agronomists, for example, provide technical support for adopting new conservation practices.
“They are tailored to each farm and field’s unique challenges,” said Tai Ullmann, sustainability lead-global edible oil solutions. “We also pay farmers for the carbon outcomes they generate. This helps farmers overcome the costs and risks associated with implementing new farming practices.
“This program enables us to offer our North American customers corn and soy ingredients produced using regenerative agricultural practices. But our intent is to scale the program as we go. We are building farmer-focused, regenerative agriculture relationships and are actively looking for customers to partner with us on this effort.”
The program helps support Cargill’s customers’ corporate sustainability commitments, not just specific brand or product ambitions, said Ms. Ullmann.
“For example, many of our customers have made bold climate commitments,” she said. “Regenerative agriculture is a way for them to credibly demonstrate progress against those climate goals. By sourcing ingredients grown using regenerative agricultural practices, customers also support their corporate master brand.”
Michelle French, director-global sustainability programs, ADM, Chicago, said, “Regenerative agriculture is key to sourcing ingredients sustainably. From the use of complex crop rotations, cover crops, reduced fertilizer input and tillage, and nutrient management, we help growers adopt regenerative agriculture practices within our plant-based ingredient portfolio, most notably with our wheat, soy and corn supply chains.”
Every effort matters. And since the pandemic, values-based shopping has taken off and ingredient suppliers are communicating their programs to manufacturers, who are in turn sharing it with consumers.
“Shoppers want their purchases to not only benefit themselves, but also their communities and the planet,” Ms. French said. “Consumers want their purchases to have additional attributes, such as being sustainably and transparently sourced, as they increasingly consider how overall well-being and conscientious consumption can go hand-in-hand.”