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How to move Consumer and Market Behavior Towards Upcycled Food

February 16, 2023

Approaches to shifting consumer and market preferences in favor of upcycled food

What makes a consumer excited to eat upcycled ingredients? This was the big question during the Foodvalley NL talk show ‘Upcycling to the Consumer’. On Valentine’s Day, Foodvalley NL organised a hybrid event together with our partners of the Upcycling Community and experts from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Innova Market Insights and the Upcycled Food Association. The major issues surrounding consumer and market were not only deepened, but also provided a lot of inspiration for further collaboration and co creation between Upcycling Community Partners!

Shift away from a linear value chain approach towards a circular food design system

We need to take a different point of view when we want to move the linear economy towards a circular economy! This was the key message of Rebecca Hesketh of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Her call to action for food manufacturers and retailers was: think of how we can design our food system for nature positive outcomes? Future food should be good for climate, consumer and business, and there are so many opportunities, of which the upcycling of side streams is an important strategy.

Currently 28% of land is used for food that is never eaten. 1.2 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year and there are so many side streams that could become very functional and delicious ingredients for food. We need to produce ‘iconic’ circular food products that will be appealing to consumers.

Together with partners at the table (René Lion- Unilever, Harald Lek – current Magie Creations and ex Marqt, Makro etc. and David Gebhardt-Mencke-Herbafood Ingredients) there was a good discussion about those iconic products, and the importance of taste, healthiness, and environmental friendliness of an upcycled food product, that is newly introduced in the market. The opportunity to use more circular ingredients is there, but more important is that those ingredients add something to the raw materials that are already available.  They found that Upcycling is not the end goal, but an extra add-on.

Impression of the webinar “Upcycling to the Consumer”

“We need to take a different point of view when we want to move the linear economy towards a circular economy” 

Rebecca Hesketh of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Discover the values that drive consumers to choose upcycled food concepts

Tim Roelands and Tara Roberts of Innova Market Insights provided global data about consumer perceptions on upcycled food and current market trends in sustainability. In the development towards more upcycled food concepts, the high awareness of consumers about food waste is a very important motivator to consider the purchasing of circular food concepts. This is at the top of the consumer their worry list. So this could be a valuable driver for Upcycled products.

However, at this moment the consumer may not fully understand the value upcycled food brings for them, so there is still a lot of communication needed inform consumers about the definitions and objectives of upcycled food products. This needs to be on the package and/or in the value proposition of the product, like a product like ‘rescue pops’ does.

The Upcycling Community partners (Linda Oostveen – Innoboost and Jeroen Hugenholtz – NoPalm Ingredients), shared their experiences, and concluded that the ‘upcycled’ factor can be of interest for the consumer, but can also be of minor importance when reaching out to the market or consumer, and be just an add-on you’re positioning as a producer of upcycled ingredients or food concepts. We need to diversify for the different consumer types and their driving values. Like No Palm Ingredients using the No Palm promo rather than the upcycling value proposition in their communication towards businesses. As this is more appealing and well known to the end-consumer.

Make upcycled as a solution for food waste traceable in the market

Angie Crone, interim CEO of the Upcycled Food Association (UFA) in the USA shared facts and figures about the development of the upcycled food market in the USA. In the USA there is a huge development of the market for upcycled food, as it is seen as an important solution for tackling food waste. Major research and investments are done to come up with the Upcycled Certified standard that was developed by the UFA, up-to-now the one and only private certification standard for upcycled food, which is already used on 324 ingredients/products in 2022 compared to 146 in 2021 since the introduction of this certificate.

Having a certification standard helps in making side stream valorisation traceable and measurable all the way up to the consumer. And it helps in marketing the food waste valorisation story, by telling it through a label on the product.

Based on the insights provided by Angie Crone, the partners of the Upcycling Community (Eve Martinet-Bareau – IFF, Sebastiaan Hetterschijt- Bakkersgrondstof and Carlos Cabrera – Greencovery) debated about the potential value and import of the development in the USA for the European/ Asian market. Although the value of upcycled was highly recognized, they also debated about the opportunities to combine upcycled with other environmental claims that are already existing in the market. The value of the private standard was discussed as well.

Emphasizing that especially alignment about the ‘upcycled’ trait and the credibility of a claim on upcycled is of major importance also for new business to business collaborations on upcycled products. In the audience we noticed that it was about a 50-50% score in whether people believe using a certification standard is a way of pushing the market for upcycled food and feed products to a next level. This is worth a further investigation in our Upcycling Community.

Create impact with the Upcycling Community of Foodvalley NL

There are already many great technologies in place that result in a higher valorisation of agrifood side streams. However, the great challenge and opportunity is to transform current systems into new circular supply chains where circular raw materials find their optimal destinations towards feed or food. For this reason, Foodvalley NL started the Upcycling Community in May 2022. The Upcycling Community is an international committed group of business partners that collaborate on the topic ‘upcycling of food losses’. The community setting creates a safe environment where organizations can share ideas, get inspired on new developments and insights from the market and research. In the current phase of creating a pre-competitive atmosphere within the Upcycling Community, Foodvalley NL focusses in 2023 on three concrete barriers mentioned by our community partners:

  • Upcycling to the consumer
    The question is whether consumers are willing to consume products made of ‘food waste’. Are consumers interested in a traceable private standard? We need to create the right insights and conditions to get circular products on the shelves. The webinar of 14 February 2023 was a starting point for Foodvalley NL to bring together the relevant insights and stakeholders to define what is needed to accelerate the market development for upcycled products. Later in 2023 we will launch of a market and innovation scan that Foodvalley NL will develop in collaboration with her partners, to address the potential of specific side streams and further data and consumer insights about the Business to Consumer market for upcycled ingredients and food concepts.
  • Bridging food innovators
    Food manufacturers are often not ready to invest in product development/ lab research to realise an update for more circular ingredients. They have strict conditions for the availability, price and quality of ingredients, which will put up barriers for the transition to new value chain with more circular ingredients. We need to create the right conditions to make purchasers / product developers of manufacturers replace virgin ingredients. On 23 May 2023 we will follow up on this topic and organize a Community-partner-only PRE-Event of the Food & Agri Next (F&A Next) event in Wageningen about Bridging Food Innovators’.
  • Fact based decision making
    More processing steps, can be associated with more costs, higher carbon and water footprint and a loss of total usable nutrients. In order to make the right decisions with respect to the valorisation of side streams or purchasing of circular ingredients, decisions making modelling can help companies in their development and investment decisions regarding the valorisation of side streams or the purchase of upcycled ingredients. On 11 April 2023 there will be an online community partner-only acceleration session about decision making modelling for the upcycling of side streams of food industry. We organise this in close collaboration with Wageningen University and Qing.