Upcycling: ‘We believe there is a second life for everything’, says Rise CEO

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Upcycling: ‘We believe there is a second life for everything’, says Rise CEO
“The time is right to focus on upcycling and I’m pleased this conversation is happening”, says Dr Bertha Jimenez, CEO of New York-based start-up Rise Products, which is increasingly attracting attention for its flour produced from spent brewers’ grains.

Food waste is an increasingly important issue for both consumers and the food industry. An average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1500, uneaten each year, according to the USDA and EPA​. Over 130 billion pounds of food is lost or wasted every year in the US, and that is mostly nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains.

This has spawned a lot of start-ups looking to upcycle this waste, with early movers including WTRMLN WTR​ (made from flesh and rind), ReGrained​ (snack bars made from spent brewers’ grains), Forager Project​ (chips made from fruit pulp), and Barnana​ (snacks made from upcycled bananas), to name but a few.

“I hope upcycling is not a trend but a mainstream practice,” ​said Dr Jimenez, who started Rise Products as a side project while she was pursuing her PhD at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

“We started by looking around New York City, and people were doing things for plastic, paper, metal, and so on, but nobody seemed to be doing anything for the byproducts from the beverage and food industry in the city,” ​she told us.

“Craft brewers are booming in cities. In rural areas, much of the spent grains go to animal feed, but in cities they go to composting or landfill. So, we started to investigate the potential of these spent grains and we realized there were good nutritional benefits.”

Scaling up

Rise, which was selected for the Food-X accelerator​, currently works with 17 breweries in New York (there are about 30 in total in the city) in a commercial kitchen space, which limits their capacity (they can process 600 lbs at a time, which yields about 133 lbs of flour). The company is currently fundraising, and hopes to close the round by September. This would allow Rise to purchase machinery that can process four tons at a time.

Despite being still early days for the company, it is already working with “a few big CPG companies on products such as breakfast snacks and frozen pizza dough,” said Dr Jimenez. These collaborations are still in the R&D phase and finished product launches are a year or so away, she added.

Rise also offers flour for direct purchase from consumers via its website​. Products include “Super Flour” made from the grain used for IPA or Pilsners, and a “Dark Edition” made from grain used to produce Stout or Porter. The company also recently launched a Brownie Mix (add butter, eggs, and a touch of vanilla extract) or finished brownies.

The patent-pending process can also be applied to other byproducts, including grape pomace from wineries, coffee waste, okara (a by-product from soy milk), and fruit skins and pulp from juice manufacturers.

A new facility, which is planned, would allow the company to focus on the spent brewers’ grain and further develop other ingredients or products.

“Nature doesn’t waste anything and everything has an extra application,”​ said Dr Jimenez. “The solution is to convert these things in a way that is nutritious and tasty.”

Food waste in numbers

Food Waste © Getty Images Daisy-Daisy
© Getty Images Daisy-Daisy

According to ReFED​ (a collaboration of over 50 business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders):

- The annual financial cost of food waste in the US is $218 billion. The greatest cost is for consumers ($144 billion).

- Every year, 52 million tons of food is sent to landfill. 21% of all landfill volume in the US is food waste.

- Ten million tons are discarded or left unharvested on farms.

- On the other hand, 14% of Americans is food insecure (one in seven).

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