How Alternative Proteins Address Food Security – Part 2: Upcycling Food Waste to Combat Food Insecurity
By: Big Idea Ventures Team
The FAO states that 660 million people could be facing hunger by 2030, yet one of the major causes for food insecurity is food loss and wastage. Every year, 20% of meat produced globally (approximately equivalent to meat coming from 75 million cows) is wasted. 45% of fruits and vegetables farmed globally are either lost or wasted. This wastage doesn’t only threaten food security, it affects global economies and the environment with 8% of global GHG emissions being generated due to food wastage.
It’s important to understand the various causes for food loss and food wastage. Food loss takes place because of supply chain issues and occurs from the farming stage upto retail. Whereas food waste occurs mainly due to consumer behaviour and takes place at the retail, food service and household level. According to the FAO, 44% of the world’s food wastage occurs “upstream” during production, post-harvest handling and storage. 46% of it happens “downstream,” at the processing, distribution and consumption stages. Causes range from poor handling of the food material, extreme weather conditions, lack of transport and storage facilities, consumer behaviour and perception of “spoiled food”.
Mitigating these losses at each stage of the food production and distribution process can help tackle this issue. One way that startups are doing this is through upcycling.
Upcycling is taking food products or ingredients that would otherwise be considered unfit for human consumption and converting them into useful products. These can range from foods that are bruised or damaged due to harsh weather conditions, certain byproducts that are created during the manufacturing process of retail goods, like seeds and other parts of fruits and vegetables that would be thrown away – yet whose nutritional value is still high enough to be able to create healthy food products.
For example, New Zealand-based startup Lilo Desserts uses up to 40% local fruit crop that is lost each year, yet which is rich in antioxidants and minerals, to develop nutritious, real fruit flavoured dairy-free cheesecakes.
Another startup based in Singapore and the US, Confetti Snacks, upcylces “ugly vegetables” – those which are considered unfit for retail because they have an irregular shape and size into minimally processed, veggie chips.
Other ways that startups are helping upcycle food wastage is by converting food by-products and waste produced during manufacturing processes into proteins through microbial fermentation.
Spanish startup, MOA Foodtech, gets the waste and by-products from the agro-food industry and transforms them into a nutritionally rich protein. Mycosortia, another fermentation-based startup based in Singapore, uses a similar process but focuses on the breakdown of fibre-heavy waste products, like okara, to produce ingredients rich in soluble fibres, and protein.
Plant-based products manufacturers aren’t immune to food waste, but they are more attuned to the idea of upcycling and many are incorporating solutions to mitigate their impact.
Companies like Kabocha Milk, for example, developed a way to use the wasted kabocha pumpkin from their retail business to make vegan, plant- based, dairy-free milk. They are now developing an alternative meat analogue using kabocha seeds and additional seed and oil products from their own waste streams.
Shanghai-based Haofood, uses the by-products from peanut oil production to create plant-based chicken. This by-product is rich in nutrients and fibre. Others like Pullulo practise upcycling by converting waste from leftover raw fruits, vegetables and carbon dioxide into microbial protein.
Upcycling might not be as exciting as developing new technologies, but there is no denying its importance in addressing food wastage and insecurity and it’s great to see many of these startups spending time and effort to upcycle more foods.
The Big Idea Ventures team is always on the lookout for innovative plant-based companies. If you are an early-stage startup looking for investment and support, reach out to us here. If you are a corporate or an investor interested in investing in the space, reach out to us here.