Considering the amount of food wasted in North America (that’s 170 million tons per year), we need more people willing to get up and do something to keep all that perfectly good food from going into the landfill in the first place.
That’s exactly what Dr. Darren Burke and TJ Galiardi did a little over three years ago. The pair was discussing the absurd amount of food waste in North America’s landfills, and out of that frustration came the idea for Beyond Food (no, not affiliated with Beyond Meat). Using a cutting-edge technology developed in-house, the company rescues produce from grocery stores destined for the trash and upcycles it into consumer products.
“We asked ourselves, How could we figure out how to upcycle this potential burden on the planet, and turn it into something of high value?” Dr. Burke, CEO of Beyond Food, told me over the phone.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia-based company’s first product is a plant-based nutrition powder. It launched with Canada retailers in September of 2018. Each 30-gram scoop (one serving) contains 20 grams of protein and six servings of fruits and vegetables.
All of that protein isn’t coming just from upcycled produce; Beyond Food adds protein from pulses (think: pea protein) into their powder. As of now the company purchases the protein from a supplier, but Dr. Burke told me that eventually they hope to make their own.
A two-pound container of the powder costs $69.99 CAD ($59.99 USD) and is available in over 1,000 stores throughout Canada; the company plans to expand into the U.S. over the next few months. Currently, Beyond Food targets athletes, but they eventually want to expand outside the sports vertical and develop upcycled products for the snacks and wellness markets.
The plant-based protein powder aspect is interesting, but it isn’t really the point of Beyond Food. Dr. Burke was insistent that the company’s main technology has “much larger implications” than just making a few CPG products from old fruits and vegetables. That’s where the company’s Zero Waste Pod comes into play.
The pod is a closed-loop system: put fresh fruit and vegetables in, and it spits out dehydrated produce powder. Water extracted from the produce can be saved and used to irrigate crops. Dr. Burke wouldn’t go too far into the technical workings of the pod, but I’m imagining a higher-tech, much-bigger version of the machines in grocery stores that grind up coffee beans or peanut butter.
Beyond Food only has a prototype pod right now, but they intend to set up a fleet of pods within grocery partners’ warehouses, doing away with the need to ship fragile, almost-rotten fruit and vegetables to a central processing hub. “We have to be in the location where the waste is being produced in order to do this the right way,” said Burke.
The company will sell the pods to grocers, who will feed in their surplus produce to reduce food waste and do away with the cost of having to pay a company to truck the rotten produce to a landfill. Beyond Food will then pick up the resulting powder, though the grocer will get credits to use a percentage of the powder to either sell to one of their brands or use to develop their own white-label product, should they so choose.
Beyond Food plans to deploy its first pod in September of 2019. The company has $3 million CAD ($2.26 million US) in funding, mostly from friends and family and government support, including a $1 million raise last November.
I have to wonder about the long term viability of Beyond Food’s mission. After all, there are several companies already working to reduce waste further up the supply chain. Spoiler Alert helps food manufacturers and distributors better manage inventory to reduce waste. And on the grocer side, Farmstead and Afresh use AI to optimize fresh food stocking and reduce surplus, while over in Europe Karma and Electrolux have teamed up to install smart fridges in grocery stores to sell food destined for the landfill. If these initiatives take a large enough bite out of food waste, there might not be enough late in life produce for Beyond to make their business model viable.
Since Dr. Burke didn’t disclose pricing details, it’s hard to tell if the cost will be low enough to make the hassle of adding a large pod into a warehouse and managing it worth the extra workload for grocery companies. Then again, ReFED reported that food waste is an $18.2 billion profit opportunity for grocery retailers, so paying a price to upcycle said waste just might be worth taking some action after all.