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Movement toward a circular food economy gains momentum

12 Dec 2018

The concept of sustainability has evolved for consumers and food manufacturers alike, and many are now looking to produce new value-added ingredients from previously discarded industry by-products.

Movement toward a circular food economy gains momentum

Market research organisation Mintel has identified ‘evergreen consumption’ as one of its top trends for 2019, and specifies that creating a truly circular food economy requires action all along the supply chain, from suppliers, manufacturers and retailers through to end consumers. The concept covers regenerative agricultural practices, improved access to recycling, and everything in between.

Ingredient suppliers increasingly have been looking for points in the food production network where waste streams could provide sustainable new ingredients for functional foods, packaging, and more. Mintel predicts that this circular approach to sustainability will expand over the coming year, with innovation to help keep resources in use as long as possible, and more discarded items finding new life in novel products, ingredients or packaging.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has also recommended finding new uses for food products that are discarded, such as using spent brewing grains in baked goods and coffee grounds as a growth medium for mushrooms. However, the FAO has also stressed that preventing food wastage to begin with is the best way to reduce its economic and environmental impact.

Several companies already are dedicated to the idea of creating value from recycled waste. FlaNat Research Italia, for example, recover nutrients from agro-food by-products to produce botanical extracts for use in nutraceuticals, and Scelta Mushrooms supplies a range of salt-enhancing extracts from mushroom waste, such as stems and blanching water.

The European Union is backing the sector too. A European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) platform is committed to working with industry to reduce waste through a circular bio-economy for healthier foods and ingredients. Members of the EIT Food community include researchers and major manufacturers like Nestlé and PepsiCo, retailers like Waitrose and Colruyt Group, as well as a host of ingredient companies, including Givaudan, Roquette, DSM, Doehler, Puratos and AlgaTechnologies.

Apart from finding new uses for waste products, manufacturers of existing products have started to highlight their place within a circular economy too. Gelatine specialist Rousselot, for example, describes its products as pure proteins directly sourced from the meat industry, which therefore create value and reduce waste.

The approach reflects a recent surge in consumer concern about waste and its impact on wildlife and the environment, as well as ongoing concern from governments, EU institutions and organisations like the FAO. As more companies embrace the need for repurposed materials along the supply chain – and begin to see value from them – movement toward a more circular food economy can only accelerate.

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