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ReGrained: Inspiring consumer preferences for food waste alchemized products. Starting with beer, of course. (+Updates!)

ReGrained enables circular markets to grow by transforming overlooked waste byproducts (like beer grain) into delicious, desirable foods.

Photo of Nick Hiebert
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What started in a frat house as a quirky baking experiment has grown into a food revolution. The high level can be seen in this video or this one

ReGrained is a San Francisco-based brand that turns fighting food waste into a lifestyle. We’re tackling an overlooked aspect of the ecosystem--the beer industry. ReGrained harvests the “spent” grain from craft breweries and turning it into a high protein, high fiber, and high impact source of nutrition. We’re closing a nutrient loop, and have already launched two flavors within product line (Honey Almond IPA and Coffee Stout healthy snack bars). We’re here on OpenIDEO to raise the bar.

Process and partnerships

A key challenge in the practice that we’ve coined “Food Waste Alchemy” surrounds the processing technology required to stabilize potential ingredients. You’ll see this challenge outlined in other submissions to this competition. In general, there is some exciting work being done in this area, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture's efforts are perhaps the most unsung. 

ReGrained has partnered with an arm of the USDA, which boasts some of the world’s leading experts on the kinds of processing technology food-waste-to-value ventures require to scale. The technology that we are developing will be energy efficient and specifically catered to suit the urban environment. Ultimately, it will enable us to launch our “ReGrainery,” a model with global potential.

In the interim, our intention is to use the ReGrained brand as a platform to promote the food waste alchemy movement. We will continue to innovate around our own branded line of products, but also use our talents for taste-making to grow our nascent industry. On one end, we will develop products that feature "brand comrades," many of which we already have existing relationships with. For example, we can incorporate upcycled bananas, coffee flour, cacao husks, okara, and more into our product lines. On another end, we can create ReGrained products for breweries, which would open us up to new customer segments.

Next Steps: Beyond the Bar

Let's return to today's efforts—tackling food waste from beer at scale. ReGrained’s current priority is to bring a new ingredient to market: something we call, Beer Flour. At the moment, we produce ReGrained Beer Flour at a pilot scale and are actively prototyping its applications in our own test-kitchens and in those of our key partners. This video showcases some early efforts and testimonials.

At scale, ReGrained Flour will be sold as a fully-branded product, leveraging the goodwill and trust created by our bars, and also as a B2B play. We intend to enter the supply chain of other food manufacturers, providing them a new, delicious, cost-effective, and sustainable ingredient.

Movement Building Activities  

We call our process “food waste alchemy” because it seems to conjure up healthy, sustainable food from nothing. But no food waste alchemist is worth their weight in gold without a crew. That’s why it’s ReGrained’s goal to help provide the infrastructure and tools to support the a much broader movement.

We’ve seen through this challenge that there's no shortage of ideas and willpower to get moving on food waste reduction efforts. We’ve also seen through our work with various food waste fighting brands and recently with our partnership with the USDA that coming up with kitchen space, technologies, and distribution channels for new value-added products can be prohibitively expensive. Whether it’s making beer from leftover bread or making delicious muffins from vegetable scraps, every food waste fighting startup needs the same things: access to space, technologies to test new processes (R&D), steady suppliers, and a diverse array of financial funding (grants and equity from private and public sources). So, to build a more robust movement and to ensure that we’re not just seen as a niche industry but a nascent industry in the midst of a growth spurt, we plan to work across sectors to develop Food Waste Alchemy Centers (FWACs).

Food Waste Alchemy Centers (FWACs) will be a cross between startup incubators and shared commercial kitchens, and could be set up regionally as food-waste-fighting product-innovation engines. Beyond equipment, the FWACs will provide entrepreneurs with coaching, and resources to grow. For example, distribution is a key challenge for food entrepreneurs that could be eased by FWAC expertise.

Regional FWACs should be located by proximity to the largest food waste generators, such as food terminals or large farms. FWACs could leverage emerging Food Waste marketplaces to find supply, which could be ferried to them by Food Waste distributors. Knowing that they have the equipment required to bring products to market that were previously only afforded by deep pockets, entrepreneurs would partner with the FWAC to execute their ideas.

The goal will be for FWACs to take in any kind of food waste and process it based on different tiers of value prioritization. To maximize “upcycled” value for our food system, products that provide human nutrition would take priority, followed by products that feed animals, followed by an internal composting operation to transform the rest into soil and natural gas (which could power the FWAC, in combination with solar). We see ReGrained as a convener in all this, facilitating partnerships to build and then help manage the FWACs. That's the back-of-the-napkin sketch of our long-term vision. What do you think?

So, to sum up our blueprint, our bars are our battering ram (a way to shape consumer preferences for edible upcycled foods), Beer Flour will tap beer waste at scale, and the Food Waste Alchemy Centers are the tides to lift all our industry’s boats.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

ReGrained offers an ideal platform for lightweight experiments. We already have products on the shelves of retailers, and can gauge consumer responses and reactions through live tasting events. Our bars use the whole grain, and these can be sampled side by side with other types of products made using “Beer Flour” in different ratios. On the consumer end, we can also distribute samples of beer flour for people to cook with at home. We'd love to see what you cook up!

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Engineers: Scaling this business (and other food waste alchemizing enterprises) requires energy efficient and economical dehydration technologies to dry grain in large volumes. What technologies are best for an urban environment? How would you test them? Finance Folks: How would you think about funding ReGrained? VC? Grants? Mixed capital stack? What excites you re: ReGrained? Concerns? Marketers: Is this a flour? A powder? What price point will the market support for this ingredient?

Tell us about your work experience:

ReGrained is led by two sustainability entrepreneurs—one marketer/sales strategist with a sustainable MBA, and one ops specialist.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • A student collaboration
  • An Individual

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s launched and we’re working on gathering more feedback – it’s existed for over 6 months

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

ReGrained makes food from the leftovers of the beer making process. Kind of like how you save the bones from that chicken you roasted for family dinner last Friday (which was so delicious by the way!) to make broth. So, ReGrained collects this leftover food from breweries that would otherwise be wasted and makes all different kinds of goodies from it.

[Only for launched ideas] How does your idea differ from what you're already doing?

Beer Flour will be a new product with mass-market potential. And FWACs are the physical manifestation of all the different players we’ve talked to—funders, technologists, governments, entrepreneurs, farmers and other suppliers.

How is your idea unique to the space?

ReGrained’s unique approach is in how we are building a broader market that will reduce food waste. We seek to affect change by starting with real, tasty products today that engage consumers in the revolution. Each ReGrained bar represents a conversation starter for the issues of food waste and the importance of nutrient recovery. From this launchpad, we can then introduce more products that divert even more more waste, and incorporate camaraderie brands and other byproducts into the mix.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

Most importantly consumers! We are trying to build market demand that will consequently fight food waste. We will only be successful in engendering a food waste alchemy industry if consumers want it. We need government to create the environment that will create the conditions for food waste fighting businesses to thrive. Partnerships with other entrepreneurs tackling other segments of the food waste ecosystem will also be essential.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

There are a few ways this could be done. For the grain specifically, social and environmental impact can be measured in pounds harvested. This weight can then be translated both into calories recovered and emissions prevented. For example, every 60k ReGrained bar sold diverts approximately one ton of methane (if harvested from a city where it would otherwise go to landfill). The recovered grain in those 60k bars equates to 600,000 calories of food that would have never been in our food system.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

The important thing to do in the immediate future is to stay focused. Right now, that means growing our snack bar business and continuing our development of innovative technology. Keeping the big vision in mind is important, but if we are to be successful, we must take each step with intention.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Marcella Lie

A really cool idea indeed, but depending on the culture/individual there might be several taboos related to consuming wasted food.

But, you explained about how chicken bones can be made to cook chicken broth, and it seems completely fine for me! Not sure how it works out for snack bars. Because with chicken broth, you don't really get to eat the bones, but with snack bars you have to consume them. (at least it can be seen)

Photo of Nick Hiebert

Great point Marcella. I think that's one of the tougher challenges for companies like ReGrained. We don't want to say the "W." word. Waste means gross to a lot of people. When communicating the key ingredient to consumers we want them to know that there is a huge environmental benefit to using this stuff, without grossing them out. We use terms like "under-loved ingredients" or "would-be-waste" to qualify what we're talking about. But you're totally right, companies like ours could have amazing and delicious products but the opportunity to sell them could go to waste if we're not careful with our language.   

Photo of Marcella Lie

That's really well thought! I like the "under-loved ingredients" better than "would-be-waste".
Also bear in mind, picking the right target goes a long way!

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