Renewal Mill readies for ‘next level’ growth with HG Ventures $2.5m seed investment

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Renewal Mill
Photo: Renewal Mill

Related tags Renewal Mill Food waste Sustainability

Renewal Mill spent 2018 proving that its business model of upcycling tofu byproduct discarded by large food manufacturers was viable, according to COO Caroline Cotto. Now armed with a $2.5m seed round investment led by HG Ventures, the company is heading into 2019 with a focus on scaling production and launching its second fibrous upcycled byproduct ingredient.

“We’re going to be bringing on our second ingredient this year, which is most likely going to be the pulp of another plant-based milk, so either almond milk pulp or oat milk pulp or something of that nature,”​ Cotto told FoodNavigator-USA.

Renewal Mill has partnered with Hodo Foods, a tofu manufacturer supplying to quick service restaurants such as Chipotle and Sweetgreen, as well as a finished branded product line launched into Whole Foods. Renewal Mill captures the pulp of organic soybeans leftover during tofu production and converts it into a fibrous value-added ingredient called okara, which has 20g of fiber and 7g of protein per serving that’s then used in the company's packaged okara flour and bakery products.

With the added cash injection, Renewal Mill will be opening two more okara processing facilities where it can process tofu pulp byproduct overseen by a food processing engineer who will be joining the team in 2019. 

“We’re still operating at pilot scale, but expecting our full installation to be within the next six weeks and that will allow us to scale up to their full capacity, which is about 40 tons of okara or about 16,000 lbs of okara per week,” ​Cotto said.

“We’ll be looking to bring on additional facilities either that size or a little bit bigger for the next two installations, which will allow us to capture a pretty significant part of the organic okara market.”

Tackling food waste at the manufacturer level

Cotto joined the Renewal Mill team in late October 2018 after working closely with the startup through the Techstars Farm to Fork​ accelerator program.

“I think that what attracted me about their business model is the real potential for impact at a huge scale that’s not at the consumer education level and that’s not at the farm, which is where two main groups of companies are tackling the issue,”​ she said.

“I thought it was really unique that they were tackling it at this manufacturing level because that’s something a lot of  consumers wouldn’t even think about when they think food waste but is actually one of the largest drivers.”

The other point of difference Cotto explained was Renewal Mill’s co-location model of having a central location to process the waste from food manufacturers, cutting down on transportation costs and reducing its environmental impact.

Working with Cargill (a corporate sponsor of the Techstars program), Renewal Mill was able to identify the full potential of and versatility of okara, according to Cotto.

“We developed a really great relationship with a lot of the people at Cargill on the R&D side so we’ve been doing trials with them on using okara for different types of snacks: puffed snacks, crusts, and things of that nature,”​ Cotto said.

‘This new investment is just the gas on the fire that we need to really take it to the next level’

Renewal Mill is working with major CPG companies described by Cotto as “early adopters” to incorporate okara into more of finished food products. 

“We’re in R&D trials with a number of nationally and internationally recognized brands who are interested in using it, but that process takes quite a bit of time for them to go from introduction of the ingredient to actually using it in the product,”​ she said.

For its own branded line of products, the company will likely be adding more cookie flavors and gluten-free baking mixes under the Renewal Mill name. Renewal Mill also recently announced a partnership with Minneapolis-based Local Crate​, a startup that will incorporate Renewal Mill’s okara flour into some of its meal kits.

“We have really proven that this model works and we’re excited about it. I think having this new investment is just the gas on the fire that we need to really take it to the next level and make a huge impact in reducing this waste and keeping more valuable nutrition in the supply chain,” ​added Cotto.

To see FoodNavigator-USA's video interview with Renewal Mill co-founder Sumit Kadakia from IFT 2018, CLICK HERE


“We take that really nutritious, really high quality, often organic material and turn that into beautiful end products for consumers,”​​ Kadakia previously told FoodNavigator-USA.

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