Investing in the Future of Food: Matriark’s ‘nimble’ processing pilot upcycles food fast, offers potential production path for scaling companies

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Investing in the Future of Food Manufacturing Entrepreneurship

Limited access to processing facilities is a top contributor to food waste, and a major hurdle that blocks mid-sized food and beverage businesses from scaling to the next level – two challenges that startup Matriark Foods is hoping to bypass with a unique business model that combines upcycling with a nimble processing option that works directly with institutions.

When Anna Hammond founded Matriark Foods​ in 2018 it was with a primary goal of feeding those in need by upcycling a portion of the 10 million tons of imperfect or unharvested vegetables that never leave the farmgate, due in part to limited access to processing facilities, and the 2 million tons of vegetable scraps that go to the landfill.

But as she quickly learned while scaling during the pandemic, limited access to processing facilities not only hindered farmers from selling their full harvests, it also hindered food and beverage companies from leveling up from self-producing at a small scale to working with a co-packer before building their own manufacturing plants.

Part of her solution, as she explains in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food​, was to partner with Table to Table to pilot a more nimble approach to processing called Farmplus to People with a $50,000 ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund Grant.

‘95% of people want to do something about food waste’

Consumers’ growing awareness of food waste, the risks it poses the environment and the opportunity to feed the swelling ranks of the food secure has created a market opportunity that aligns nicely Matriark Food’s mission to upcycle surplus and fresh cut remnants into healthy, delicious products for food service in schools, hospitals, food banks and places where people eat on a large scale daily – even during the pandemic.

According to Hammond, 95% of people want to do something about food waste, more than 60% want and are looking for upcycled foods and an increasing number are aware of and urgently support the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.

With only 30 years to meet this ambitious goal, she said, “we have got to be pretty bold to do something serious about it. And fortunately, Matriark has a solution that’s already working,”​ which is to team with farmers, aggregators and fresh cut vegetable facilities to divert waste streams at a disruptive scale to feed large numbers of people while simultaneously creating consequential reductions in climate change and building a better food system.

Specifically, for every 2.5 gallons Matriark makes concentrated vegetable broth and umami vegetable bases it divert one pound of waste from the landfill and reduce greenhouse gases by 2.9 pounds.

To make the biggest impact, Matriark decided  to focus on food service, where Hammond said more than 50% of meals are consumed “by a largely captive audience, mostly in dire need of healthy food,”​ which allows the company to upcycle large quantities of vegetables and deliver healthy food to the most people in the most streamlined fashion.

A ‘curve to the left’

Unfortunately, the same week that Matriark launched its broth and bases the pandemic was declared, and foodservice disappeared along with the startup’s original path to market.

But, Hammond said, the company was able to take a “curve to the left”​ to achieve its mission by creating packaged vegetable broth concentrate for food boxes delivered to hospital workers and through food rescue organizations.

In addition, Matriark seized an opportunity presented by the pandemic to team with the food rescue program Table to Table to leverage a grant from ReFED to create an upcycled vegetable stew for distribution that tested the metrics of a large scale run using a more nimble processing approach.

Within a week of launching production, the coronavirus pandemic was declared and foodservice disappeared along with Matriark’s original path to market. But Hammond said the business was able to take a “curve to the left” and still achieve its mission by creating packaged vegetable broth concentrate for food boxes and by teaming with Table to Table to test a nimbler processing facility.

The pilot not only revealed a new way to reduce food waste, but Hammond said, it also could serve as a bridge model for food and beverage startups that are too big for community or incubator kitchens but still too small to build their own facilities.

“One of the reasons there’s so much food waste is because there’s not enough access to process. The largest 19 companies in the United States own their own means of production and everyone else has to either work with a contract co-packer, of which there are very few, or they have to self-produce at a community kitchen or incubator kitchen. And so the ability to scale is almost nonexistent … for what I am calling the middle landscape of food production. So, anything cumulatively in the mid to large scale business range,”​ Hammond explained.

Through her work with Table to Table and other stakeholders involved in the public-private partnership, she said she plans to use part of the grant to develop a business model for a nimble processing facility that would produce directly for institutions, such as food banks and city service meals – allowing stakeholders to bypass distribution to an extent and redirect surplus streams directly to a processing facility.

Planning for the future

Hammond says she hopes to build on Matriark Foods’ initial success by creating new products with upcycled ingredients and expanding distribution internationally. To do this, she is tapping into the network and knowledge of Food System 6’s business accelerator and Circular Economy Startup Program​ sponsored by Huhtamaki.

“We’re just hitting out stride and … FS6 and Huhtamaki’s Circular Economy Program has put us in touch with people who just been incredibly enthusiastic about what we’re doing,”​ she said. “Some of the bigger companies that we’re talking with now are really interested in galvanizing this moment and they see working with us as an opportunity to do that.”

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