Food technology company ReGrained has developed a way to upcycle food, making nutritious, novel edibles from manufacturing byproducts. In 2020, alone the company rescued over 400,000 pounds of grain, a key ingredient that goes into the products. Daniel Kurzrock, ReGrained CEO and cofounder, says this year that figure will be eclipsed several times over.
While he and cofounder Jordan Schwartz first made only their own products, today multiple brands tap into this patented invention to make their own consumer packaged goods –from ice cream to cookie dough— using oats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and soy among byproducts from manufacturing.
In this Q&A Kurzrock tells the story of how his concept came to be; he enlightens on a cold call that led to a partnership with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA); and he speculates on what the future will look like for upcycled foods as a commodity.
Waste360: What exactly is ReGrained and what do you do?
Kurzrock: ReGrained is a food technology company, ingredient platform, and innovation lab leading the upcycled food revolution.
We identify healthy food that is overlooked in the production process, and rescue it using our patented technology to create versatile, nutritious ingredients and innovative products. Our mission is to better align the food we eat with the planet and people.
We are a certified Public Benefit Corporation and 1% For The Planet member, and cofounders of the Upcycled Food Association.
Waste360: Describe the technology you created and how you worked with USDA to do so.
Kurzrock: We developed the upcycling technology through a collaborative research partnership with the USDA. Together we patented it, and ReGrained commercialized it.
As an approach, our tech can be understood simply as value-added processing. If you think about pickling, canning, preserves—those techniques were developed to extend the shelf-life of a crop. Our technology also extends the life of a crop; ours is just harvested from breweries (and other manufacturers) instead of the field. That’s why we call it upcycling. Otherwise, the food would go to lower uses such as animal feed, compost, or landfill.
Our technology stabilizes soaked grains to keep them food-safe. Our output is a dry, stable material that can be stored at room temperature. It is highly energy efficient and yields improved taste and aroma compared to more conventional methods of processing.
ReGrained's technology is suited to create novel upcycled ingredients from oat milk residue, pressings from juice, etc.
Waste360: Who do you work with and in what way?
Kurzrock: As an ingredient and development partner, we upcycle at scale by collaborating with leading global food brands through our upcycled food lab. For some, we offer full cycle support; others simply purchase our ingredients.
On the supply side, we also work with firms interested in licensing our technology. I am not at liberty to discuss this in greater detail.
Waste360: What are some products you have created?
Kurzrock: Our first product is the ReGrained SuperGrain, the ingredient that started it all. ReGrained SuperGrain is our ongoing key ingredient.
Today we rescue commercial volumes of brewers’ “spent” grains, which are nutritious sprouted grains naturally desugared in the beer-making process. It has a nutritional profile and functionality that are optimal in a variety of commercial applications.
On the consumer packaged goods (CPG) side, we have done full-scale launches of two products: nutrition bars and extruded snacks.
Waste360: What’s an interesting CPG brand you collaborate with?
Kurzrock: Doughp is a great example of a collaboration with a fast-growing CPG brand. Doughp, an edible and bakeable cookie dough brand, joined forces with ReGrained’s upcycled food lab to develop their “Beast Mode Brownie” flavor. This limited release item incorporates SuperGrain into a product with two times the protein and six times the fiber than conventional flavors.
To name just a few others: we have a collaboration launching soon with Semolina Artisanal Pasta. Bi-Rite, a NorCal ice cream institution, is on their second flavor using ReGrained. This one is a banana and ReGrained-based vegan flavor. We have a few other ice creams in the works; it is a fun application that I never would have thought of when starting the business.
Waste360: Tell us how USDA become your partner in developing this technology.
Kurzrock: I learned from a peer that they had a program around working with private sector firms to develop technology to turn plant-based waste into novel foods and got in touch. The first contact was literally a cold email! We were a really good fit for one another.
Waste360: Is the technology exactly the same for each product, or do you tweak it for each product?
Kurzrock: The mechanics of it are similar, with customized controls based on the inputs and desired outputs.
Waste360: How did ReGrained come to be?
Kurzrock: The short version: In college we learned how to make our own beer. Every 6-pack we brewed left us with one pound of grain. We were hauling this grain to the dumpster until we started baking bread with it. At first, our goal was to make enough money to brew beer for free. We soon realized the possibilities were much bigger.
The long version: ReGrained began with what I would describe as recreational entrepreneurship. We believed we had a “real” idea on our hands but were pursuing it as a side hustle. There were things we needed to figure out before we could scale technically. On the market side, our concept was so novel that we wanted to confirm that we actually had a demand for it.
In our last quarter of college, my cofounder Jordan and I took an entrepreneurship elective as the capstone to our economics degree. In this course, we ideated a vision for what would become ReGrained.
We needed a proof of concept for our ingredient platform, but felt bread was not ideal for the time and labor it took to produce, along with the short shelf-life of the finished product. We pivoted to nutrition bars because we could make more per batch in a home kitchen. They would last months if packaged, and frankly, as avid outdoorsmen, we ate a lot of them.
After college, we got jobs and continued to produce bars and sell them while working on the bigger business model. Our idea now needed our full attention. I quit my job, started an MBA program, and poured all of my energy into ReGrained.
While in grad school, I worked on ReGrained in every course. The principal challenge to scale at the time was how to process the raw material (freshly soaked grain) into a safe, functional, and economical ingredient.
This was when we first partnered with the USDA. The goal was to overcome prior technical barriers and develop a scalable solution. Together we created ReGrained's exclusive patent-protected upcycling technology.
By 2017 we had our first employees and early prototypes of our consumer brand distributed in the market. We had established ourselves as thought leaders and were frequently evangelizing the upcycling movement in the media, at conferences, etc. We continued to secure innovation partnerships with big food companies including Barilla and Griffith Foods. These partnerships have been key in getting us to where we are today.
Waste360: From where do you source ingredients?
Kurzrock: In Northern California, our primary brewery partner is Fort Point, along with a few others. We also have a strategic partnership with Molson Coors, who is one of our investors.
Waste360: Can you tell us of your work with the Upcycled Food Association?
Kurzrock: The Upcycled Food Association is a non-profit trade association launched in late 2019 with a handful of mission-aligned founding member companies dedicated to building the market for upcycled foods. I worked to help grow membership and to help spearhead the creation of an official definition for what exactly “upcycled foods” are. That definition set the stage for the development of a third-party certifiable standard. We published the first version of the standard in January 2021, and the logo in April.
In June 2021 open enrollment for the standard begins, meaning we’ll see officially certified upcycled ingredients and products hit the shelves this year.
Waste360: Do you see upcycled food becoming mainstream? If so, how do you envision that happening, and what do you see that looking like?
Kurzrock: First, we’ll have products boasting the upcycled certification seal on the front of their package. We will start seeing upcycled food sections of stores (we already are!) and upcycling as a searchable “tag” in ecommerce (again we already are).
This isn’t just start-ups. At ReGrained, we’re working with many of the world’s leading food companies to help them create upcycled product lines. In the Upcycled Food Association, we have enterprise-scale members participating (like Dole, Mondelez, and US Foods).
Waste360: What are you hearing about peoples’ perceptions of upcycled food?
Kurzrock: Most folks we interact with find the idea approachable and common sense. That said, framing is super important. In our consultative positioning work that we do with our partners at our upcycled food lab, I always caution to be careful not to “yuck the yum” of the customer. We’re always careful not to use words like “waste” on our package, even though reducing waste is an important means of how upcycled food makes an impact. Instead, we focus on conservation of resources like water and other strategies.
Waste360: Why does the industry use the word “upcycled” to describe these products?
Kurzrock: The term upcycled is used to describe taking something that was created for one use, and then putting it to a different more lasting use instead of recycling or going to a landfill. A fun example is plastic water bottles—very little plastic is actually recycled in the end markets. The bottles can be upcycled into fibers to make clothing. Used wine barrels used for planters is another very simple and classic example. Or for the home gardener, upcycling eggshell halves to sprout seeds.
I like the term because to “upcycle” connotes putting something to a higher use, which we were doing with our model, while to “recycle” suggests reuse. To “recycle” food would be more literally to compost—to recycle the nutrients in soil. Eggshells and banana peels should be composted…but for edible and nutritious food, with upcycling we can create something new, something better.