Upcycled Food Association CEO: 'We want an upcycled product in every aisle of every grocery store'

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Upcycled Food Association Food waste

Upcycled food products (made from ingredients that would otherwise not have gone to human consumption) are the most straightforward and scalable path to reducing and preventing food waste, says Upcycled Food Association CEO Turner Wyatt.

The Upcycled Food Association (UFA) was formed roughly two years ago by a group of businesses all with the same mission of reducing food waste by growing the market for upcycled food products and ingredients and thereby reducing the $1 trillion worth of food that goes to waste annually around the world.

According to UFA, about 80% of people want to try upcycled products but less than 10% know what they are, creating a clear opportunity for consumer education and awareness for these type of sustainable products, noted Wyatt. 

"The organization was founded under the hypothesis that upcycling is a really scalable solution to food waste because it’s consumer product driven. It’s important to find scalable solutions to food waste because we only really have a few years to figure them out. The UN and the USDA both say we have to halve our food waste by 2030, which means there are billions of tons of food waste to figure out what to do with over the next couple of years," ​Wyatt told FoodNavigator-USA. 

Wyatt continued that among the most effective and impactful solutions to reducing and preventing food waste is growing the upcycled foods economy, because consumer products can scale in a relatively short period of time and because the vast majority of consumers want to be part of the solution.

According to UFA, 99% of people agree that food waste is a problem and 95% say they want to take action in their own lives to prevent food waste. 

"We are all taught from a young age that food waste is bad, so basically everyone agrees that food waste is bad. It really is an alignment between the interest of business, interest of the environment, and interest of the consumers because,"​ said Wyatt. 

Progress made

So what kind of dent can upcycled food and beverage products actually make it, and how do you measure progress in this area?

Last year, the Upcycled Food Association came out with its own certification program in which brands and products must go through a third-party audit to ensure that the ingredient(s) in question would have gone to waste and that "therefore the existence of this product has a meaningful impact on food waste prevention,"​ explained Wyatt.


So far, between 180 and 200 products from small emerging brands to large, CPG companies such as Del Monte and Dole have SKUs that have been certified under the UFA's certification program, which translates into the equivalent of 788 millions pounds of food waste saved per year, noted Wyatt. 

"It's good for our first year, but we’re just getting started. We want an upcycled product in every aisle of every grocery store. New products are getting certified all the time, and we’re discovering how impactful this industry is. Our goal as an organization is to accelerate demand for upcycled products, and that's how we evaluate ourselves. And in the process, what we’re doing is hopefully creating an environment where upcycled businesses will be more successful, meaning more products will come online all the time," ​said Wyatt. 

"We’re working really hard to create a brand around Upcycled Certified and then using all the pooled resources of all these businesses to promote that brand. We have commercials coming out and our own brand presence, and we're working with retailers and get them to feature Upcycled Certified on an end cap."

Ingredients with potential

As UFA sees products using everything from discarded coffee cherry husks (cascara) to brewers' spent grain used to make granola bars and dog treats, what areas of the industry does it see as holding the most potential for large-scale impact?

A macro trend Wyatt has observed in the upcycled foods movement is in using byproducts not just from the food and beverage manufacturing process, but from agriculture. 

Using the brand CaPao (launched by Mondelez SnackFutures arm) as an example, Wyatt said, "Cacao is the fruit that they're using, and it goes to waste not because it's not nutritious or delicious, it goes to waste because we use it for something else that there's a ton of demand for - chocolate - and there's not a ton of demand for the fruit, so they're creating a market for this fruit that would have previously gone to waste. 

"From cheese manufacturing there's the byproduct of acid whey, so there are a handful of our members making probiotic soda and others beverages with it. A good portion of our members use brewers' spent grain to make flours, pet treats, bars and puffs and everything in between."​    

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