We spoke with ReGrained co-founder Dan Kurzrock to learn more about the upcycling process, the role such technology can play in helping to fix the food system, and why brand collaboration is so important when it comes to scale.
Dan Kurzrock is co-founder and Chief Grain Officer at ReGrained — a food tech startup that upcycles byproducts such as spent brewers’ grain into nutritious food ingredients and products. The mission of the company — a finalist in Sustainable Brands’ 2016 Innovation Open that has continued to scale its impact ever since — is to better align the food people eat with the planet through valuing and utilizing resources that might have otherwise gone to waste.
We spoke with Kurzrock ahead of his upcoming talk at SB’21 San Diego to learn more about the upcycling process, the role such technology can play in helping to fix the food system, and why brand collaboration is so important when it comes to scale.
You say that upcycled food offers brands an opportunity to get creative with sustainability. What do you mean by that?
Dan Kurzrock: Upcycling is inherently an act of creation. It’s all about unlocking latent value in products that would typically be considered waste and putting these resources to best use. Doing this effectively requires a reframing of the status quo, a shift in perspective about what is possible. This is where the creativity comes in. Instead of waste being an unfortunate problem or the cost of doing business, upcycling can transform it into an opportunity.
How can upcycled ingredients and products help fix a broken food system?
DK: The food system is broken for many reasons, one of which is that we waste too much edible food. Analyses range between 30-40 percent globally, and these metrics generally exclude or underestimate byproducts. We vastly undervalue the virgin resources required to produce food. So, when we waste food, we’re also wasting the resources it took to grow, harvest, process and distribute food. If we are going to fix our broken food system, beginning to value the natural resources required to produce it is a good place to start.
What is unique about the technology you have developed to upcycle byproducts such as grains?
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DK: Our patented technology can be understood as a modern take on value-added processing. If you think about pickling, canning, preserves — those techniques were developed to extend the shelf-life of a crop. Our technology also does that; it is just harvested from breweries instead of the field. Without us, the food would go to lower uses such as animal feed, compost or landfill. Our technology stabilizes the soaked grains to keep them food-safe. The output is a dry, stable material that can be stored at room temperature.
How can brands benefit from this?
DK: As an ingredient and development partner, we upcycle at scale by actively collaborating with leading food brands through our upcycled food lab. These ‘Powered by ReGrained’ projects span products in every aisle of the grocery store. Together, we look at opportunities to incorporate new ingredients and techniques that make authentic impact into existing supply chains. Our lab helps create products supported by health and environmental claims quickly from concept to market, with flexible services tailored to the needs and capabilities of our partners. For some we offer full cycle support; others simply purchase our ingredients.
You recently collaborated to launch an upcycled pasta. Is this a potential gamechanger?
DK: The pasta category is indeed huge, and Semolina Artisanal Pasta makes some of the best-tasting products around. It is a truly a great product. But we see every innovation project as a potential gamechanger. Earlier this year, we worked with a brand called Doughp to create a ‘first of its kind’ upcycled cookie dough. We’re doing the same across categories and applications — even plant-based protein, ice cream and beverage.
What consumer appetite is there for upcycled foods? Are there perception challenges to overcome?
DK: We have seen substantive progress in the upcycled food category. Earlier this year, Whole Foods declared upcycled food a Top 10 trend in 2021. And in a recent study conducted by Mattson, 57 percent of consumers indicated that they intend to buy more upcycled food. I think this speaks volumes to the consumer awareness and industry demand for upcycled foods.
You co-founded the Upcycled Food Association. What are its aims?
DK: One of our first objectives was to officially define what exactly ‘upcycled foods’ are. That definition then set the stage for the development of a third-party, certifiable standard. This June, open enrollment for the standard began. Officially certified upcycled ingredients and products are now a thing, and we will start seeing the seal on shelves in every aisle of the grocery store from here. ReGrained is proud to be the first flour ingredient made from brewer’s grain in the world to be certified by the Association.
What scale of impact are you creating with your work?
DK: Last year, we upcycled about half a million pounds of brewers’ grain. That is literally tons, but a mere sliver of the billions of pounds of potential supply. We have cracked the code on the supply side and technology. What is key from here to scale the impact is growing demand. We need more companies producing upcycled food products, and more consumers learning about the benefits.