Upcycled Food Is Trending

Upcycled Food Is Trending


More than one third of the global food production is lost or wasted.

This is a serious problem with humanitarian, economic, and environmental implications. Inadequate handling, storage, and distribution result in food losses while limited shelf life and spoilage of perishable products contribute to food waste. One solution to the problem is the design of new products from waste and byproducts of food processing. The market success of these new products depends on their appeal to consumers and their price.


Video Spotlight: Upcycled Food

This post is based on The Conversation article, Upcycling’ Promises to Turn Food Waste into Your Next Meal, by R. Holcomb and D. Bellmer, June 22, 2021, and the YouTube video, Upcycled Food Becomes This Year’s Latest Food Trend, by CBS This Morning, April 17, 2021. Image source: RonBailey/E+/Getty Images.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the consequences of food loss/waste? Could lower food production levels solve the problem?

Guidance: There are humanitarian, financial, and environmental consequences of food loss/waste. From a humanitarian standpoint, the coexistence of hunger and food loss/waste exposes the intolerable weaknesses of the food supply chains. The economic consequences of food losses are estimated to range from US$200 billion to $300 billion. The losses sustained from farms to local grocers are passed on to us, the consumers, in the form of higher prices. If we add our own food waste (expired products and spoiled perishables), we quickly realize that we are directly affected by these financial losses. From an environmental perspective, food loss/waste is responsible for a substantial portion of greenhouse gas emissions, contributes significantly to landfill volume, and squanders natural resources.

With so many hungry people around the world, it is hard to see how lower food production levels could solve the problem. Rather, better handling, storage, distribution, and inventory management could lessen its severity.

2. Along the supply chain, what are the potential opportunities and threats associated with upcycling?

Guidance: At the supply level, there is an opportunity to sell products (e.g., bruised fruit) that might not be considered adequate for sale at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. At the manufacturing level, there are opportunities to innovate, re-purpose the by-products of the manufacturing process, and expand markets. At the retail level, there is an opportunity to sell the discarded products to ‘upcyclers.’ At all levels of the supply chain, there are multiple opportunities to establish new distribution networks and forge new relationships. The major threat is the potential lack of demand for such products. Clever and appealing product design as well as appropriate pricing will determine the success of the various upcycling endeavors.

3. Describe how you could both reduce your food waste and ‘upcycle’ some of your food.

Guidance: First, one should set up a dual inventory system: one system with ample safety stock for sale products that can be frozen or are not highly perishable, and another just-in-time (exactly what one needs when it is needed) system for perishable items that cannot be frozen (e.g., deli meats and produce). Second, one should find ways to cook or preserve unsavory produce or meats (e.g., make peach ice cream with old or starchy peaches; grind a tough steak and make hamburgers; etc.) so that they will not be thrown away. Finally, one should donate canned and dry goods that are reaching their expiration dates if there is no plan to use them promptly.


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