Why the future of sustainable food in India is upcycling

Food waste is a significant concern in developing countries such as India, where approximately $14 billion worth of crops are wasted each year due to poor cold chain and disorganised logistics. In such a scenario, the concept of upcycled food offers promising solutions. According to a report published by Food and Nutrition Sciences, only 10 per cent of consumers are familiar with upcycled food products. However, 80 per cent of people are willing to explore upcycled food options once they are educated about them. Let’s examine how the upcycled food trend can drive a food revolution in India. 

Have you heard of Nescafé Nativ Cascara or Buxton Plant+Water? These are beverages produced by Nestlé Australia and Nestlé UK, respectively. Nescafé Nativ Cascara is a carbonated soft drink made from organic cascara – the ‘coffee berry’ fruit surrounding the coffee beans that is typically discarded during coffee production. By infusing sun-dried cascara husks with water and botanicals, Nestlé product developers created this innovative drink. Buxton Plant+Water, on the other hand, is a functional spring water infused with plants and represents a byproduct of the coffee decaffeination process. Both the products are novel but is there a link between them?

Both these products are connected by the concept of upcycling, which is becoming increasingly popular in the food industry. Many food producers are developing products and technologies that use agricultural raw materials that would otherwise go to waste, reducing their environmental impact by lowering water usage and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the value chain. Using raw materials and side streams in products or processes can also create new revenue streams for farmers and startups focused on developing food ingredients or packaging materials. Nestlé, one of the largest multinational food and drink conglomerates, is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and has been driving various business initiatives worldwide that align with the concept of food upcycling. 

According to Thomas Hauser, Head of Nestlé’s Product and Technology Development, “Developing new products and technologies using agricultural side streams is one way to reduce environmental impact and it creates new opportunities for farmers. We are committed to addressing food loss by creating new value for raw materials and developing innovations that are good for you, and the planet.”

Commendable global efforts

The Upcycled Food Association (UFA), a US-based nonprofit trade association, is working to prevent food waste by promoting the upcycled economy. According to UFA, upcycled foods use ingredients that would not have otherwise been used for human consumption, and are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains that have a positive impact on the environment.

According to the Food Loss and Waste Protocol, the food waste destinations are when food ends up in incinerators, as animal feed, in landfills, or in anaerobic digesters. By avoiding these waste destinations, upcycled food makes better use of the energy expended in growing, transporting, and preparing that food. Food loss and waste are responsible for 8 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, which is why reducing food waste is the single greatest solution to climate change. Upcycled food captures that value and leverages it to create a sustainable and resilient food system.

UFA is the only food industry association dedicated to catalysing the upcycled economy to prevent food loss and waste across the entire supply chain. UFA is leveraging market forces to prevent food waste by coordinating hundreds of companies around the world and empowering millions of consumers to prevent climate change with the products they buy. UFA recently launched the world’s first product certification programme for upcycled products and ingredients, called Upcycled Certified. 

In January 2023, Kerry, a world-leading sustainable nutrition company, announced its sponsorship of The Kerry Upcycled Food Foundation Fellowship. This marks the second research fellowship initiated by the Upcycled Food Foundation (UFF), which is dedicated to supporting this evidence-based industry and educating consumers about the environmental and social benefits of upcycled foods. The Foundation is the non-profit subsidiary of the Upcycled Food Association. 

“Kerry’s sponsorship of this fellowship has enabled more fellows to enter the programme, which will provide invaluable insights that can be applied to industry practices and consumer messaging, and thus allow us to reduce food waste through upcycled food. In 2022, eight fellows were selected to conduct research that reflects a research question of interest to the upcycled food community,” said Angie Crone, Chief Executive Officer of the Upcycled Food Association

Various global upcycled food brands like Rebon, Abokichi, Diana’s, Riff, US Foods, The Spare Food Co., ReGrained, Blue Stripes Urban Cacao, GoodSport Nutrition, Agricycle Global, SUPERFRAU, Lost & Found Distillery, among others, have been driving innovations in the upcycled food, beverages, and snacks industry. 

Upcycled food: Could it be a game-changer for India? 

Food waste is a significant concern for developing countries like India, where roughly $14 billion worth of crops are wasted each year due to a poor cold chain and disorganised logistics. The cost of establishing and maintaining a cold chain, lack of awareness and untrained manpower, inferior quality and misused cold chain transport, poor infrastructure, etc., are some of the reasons behind this failure.

While commenting on the situation, Swarn Kamal, Commercial Kitchen Consultant at Opstrah Design, said, “According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), approximately 40 per cent of the food produced in India is wasted every year due to a fragmented food and inefficacious supply chain system. The irony is that loss occurs even before the food reaches the consumer. India wastes more fruits and vegetables than the entire United Kingdom consumes and more grains than Australia produces. Around 1 per cent of the GDP is depleted in the form of food wastage. According to the Ministry of Agriculture (Government of India), Rs 50,000 crore of food produced gets wasted every year.” 

In this context, the concept of upcycled food looks promising for India. According to a report published in Food and Nutrition Sciences, only 10 per cent of consumers are familiar with upcycled food products, but once educated, 80 per cent of people are willing to try them. The global upcycled food products market size was valued at $53.7 billion in 2021, and is estimated to reach $97 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 6.2 per cent from 2022 to 2031, according to a new report published by Allied Market Research, titled, “Upcycled food products Market.” The upcycled food products industry is anticipated to experience significant expansion due to rising raw material costs. The market is also expanding due to growing consumer health concerns, and innovation and R&D growth have a significant impact on the expansion of the upcycled food products market. 

Tanvi Goswami, Former-Executive Chef, SAGA restaurant, said, “The trend of upcycled food will have a lasting impact on how we perceive ‘wastage’ with respect to food. In my opinion, the integration of the concept will have a pivotal role in global sustainability, which in this day and age can only be supported by value-added models such as upcycling food. We strive to utilise every facet of the raw produce. We instil a sense of ownership for produce sourced directly from the Earth. For example, we use fish skin to make chips, mutton neck bone to make stock, and we dehydrate any kind of vegetable peel and use it as a garnish. The conceptual thought process behind upcycling food looks to readapt our perception of waste, process waste into more marketable and sustainable products, constructing a waste-reducing macro impact on the globe.” 

Although the trend of upcycled food has been gaining popularity in India, there have not been considerable efforts made in this space by the Indian food industry counterparts. On the other hand, in the global market, food continues to get upcycled, and innovative food products are made available. For this trend to work in India, a considerable investment in sophisticated manufacturing equipment and training is crucial. Although the government of India has taken various initiatives to combat food waste in the nation, upcycled food products are yet to receive the attention they deserve from the authorities. 

Mansi Jamsudkar


Image credit- shutterstock

Read Previous

Rationale for Ramping up Food Testing Labs

Read Next

“Events like AAHAR fair helps us to network, learn, and grow in the Indian food market”

Leave a Reply