You may have noticed that upcycled food has made its way into countless consumer product trends lists and headlines over the last few months. I find this trend to be a fascinating phenomenon, partly because most people don’t seem to fully understand upcycling; but they like it, and they want more of it. The novelty is intriguing, and consumers want a taste. A meta-analysis of the latest trends reports and headlines reveals the growing momentum around upcycled food and the untapped potential of this fledgling market.
At the height of the new year, mega-retailer Kroger identified 10 emerging food trends of 2022, distinguishing upcycled ingredients as one way to both reduce waste and to prioritize the health of the planet. We are entering an era beyond just plant-based and organic. There’s a growing emphasis on reuse and reduce, and upcycled ingredients play a key role in those efforts.
According to Trendhunter’s 2022 Trend Report, seed upcycling emerged as a key trend for the upcoming year, ripe with opportunity. Instead of discarding seeds used during the production process, upcycling transforms and converts these leftovers into things like snack foods, energy bars, protein powders, and pet foods.
These predictions weren’t merely speculation. Expo West attendees saw this manifest in real time in Anaheim at the March 2022 exhibition. The trade show proved to be a shining moment for upcycling, so much so that SPINS highlighted upcycling as one of the most prominent trends on the tradeshow floor in their recap report.
Perhaps we could have seen this coming. In October, Innova Market Insights dubbed upcycled foods as a top trend for 2022. Based on Innova’s latest research report, 43 percent of respondents say that “reducing food waste” is the top action they are taking with their food choices as it pertains to the environment. On a global scale, 35 percent of consumers are more interested in products containing upcycled ingredients than those without.
Upcycled food is an opportunity to educate consumers. A 2021 study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences reveals that only 10 percent of consumers were familiar with the term upcycling. However, after those same consumers were further educated on the concept, 80 percent said they would seek it out. Comparably, a recent poll by New Food asked consumers if they would eat (or currently eat) upcycled food products. 41 percent responded yes while 43 percent said they did not know what upcycled food was.
Not surprisingly, Google searches for upcycled food are steadily rising. According to Spoonshot, an artificial intelligence food innovation platform, upcycling has seen a 128 percent increase in interest across business media in the past year.
Quite recently, new organizations and businesses have emerged in an effort to better inform consumers about the benefits of upcycling. Upcycled Food Association (UFA) is one such organization. UFA is dedicated to expanding the upcycled food economy, helping to transform the concept and practice into a pillar of sustainable food systems.
At its core, upcycling is an ancient philosophy that is undergoing a renaissance. As a baseline, upcycled products create value by preventing food waste. According to UFA, upcycling creates more resilient food systems by using products and ingredients that otherwise fall through the cracks of our fragmented food system.
Whether Or Not You’ve Noticed, The Industry Has
There’s no shortage of brands who are jumping on the upcycling trend. Green Queen, an award-winning sustainability and impact media platform, recently wrote about “14 Upcycled Vegan Food Brands Reducing Food Waste.” Similarly, Food Navigator nodded to Renewal Mill’s upcycled ingredients as a driving force in this “food system renaissance.”
These burgeoning businesses are also seeing a rise in capital investment. Forbes’ Food and Beverage Financial News Roundup recently nodded to PurePlus for raising US$1.56 million during its pre-seed funding round for their new “climate candy” brand which is built on a framework of upcycling and sourcing unused or unwanted fruits and vegetables directly from farmers. Along with co-founder ReFED, Upcycled Food Association created the Food Waste Funder Circle, in which investors can receive a weekly “deal-flow” report outlining investment opportunities across the entire food waste industry with the goal of fighting against food waste.
As the conscious consumer evolves into a pervasive market driver, food and beverage brands are seeking ways to innovate and differentiate, minimize their climate footprint, and invest in circular systems. Likewise, manufacturers, retailers, and brands are recognizing the indisputable advantages to reducing food waste, slashing their carbon emissions, and establishing sturdy, traceable supply chains. And if you can accomplish all of this via tasty, faddish foods—why not?
Upcycling has the potential to be more than just a trend. It’s a growing movement rooted in consumer product-based solutions, making it an attractive and innovative solution to the ever-present problem of food waste.
Based on this analysis, keep your eyes peeled for more headlines featuring upcycled products. As brands begin to seek out credible, third-party verification for upcycled ingredients and products through the novel Upcycled Certified™ program, upcycling will surely continue to make waves. It’s likely we’ll soon see upcycled foods in more places than just trends headlines.
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Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske, Unsplash