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Eat Beer: Tackling Food Waste at the Tap.

ReGrained processes an often overlooked waste product (beer grain) and turns it into a high fiber, high protein and high impact ingredient.

Photo of Nick Hiebert
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It is a commonly held truth that beer is good. But what is less known is that the process of making beer uses a tremendous amount of resources.  Two breweries opened somewhere in the U.S. yesterday, two more opened today, and two more will join them tomorrow. Yes, as many of us beer lovers know well by now, the craft brewing industry is booming. The problem, however, is that as the industry balloons, so too does its ecological footprint. The good news? This growing ecological footprint is enabling a huge opportunity to create a new source of nutrition and dramatically reduce food waste.

The fact is that our favorite food group (beer) and its historical paradigm is changing. It used to be that brewers would partner with farmers who would feed the grain to livestock or compost it.  But, as more and more breweries migrate from rural areas into the heart of our cities, that brewer-farmer relationship is becoming less and less feasible.  The result: hundreds of thousands of tons of healthy, edible beer grain is being thrown out each week across the U.S. On average, each microbrewery throws out about 2,000-3,000 lbs of edible beer grain each week. This “spent” grain is the end of an entire agricultural supply chain and is a “waste” product that each brewery must dispose of.

Here’s where ReGrained comes in: ReGrained partners with urban craft breweries to harvest their grain byproducts and transform them into delicious, value-added products. The company has already started in San Francisco by taking would-be-waste and making healthy snack bars. But, in order to address the problem at scale and to unlock all the latent nutrition going to waste, ReGrained is here to tap the OpenIDEO community’s help.

ReGrained has aspirations beyond the bar. It needs this community’s help co-creating strategies that help build consumer awareness and bring this dark horse byproduct—”spent” beer grain—to the kitchen cabinets of the world. From waste to superfood.

One idea the company could use help developing during the research and inspiration phase is a versatile milled version of the ingredient. This “Beer Flour” (working title) would enable the company to address beer’s waste problem at scale by introducing a novel, beneficial ingredient to be used in anything, from tortilla chips to pancakes. The challenge is that the craft brewing landscape and its supply chains are fragmented. That’s where you all come in.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How might ReGrained turn brewing’s shadow side into a sunny garden of nutrition? And how might ReGrained best prove the model for “food waste alchemy,” and demonstrate that “edible upcycling” is a viable solution for closing nutrient loops within our food system?

Tell us about your work experience:

I’m just a guy who hates seeing good stuff go to waste. I helped develop the Beer Flour concept with ReGrained in grad school. I’d love to see it grow from concept to consumption.

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Photo of Shengmin

Hi Nick, 
Great idea I really love it! It inspires me thinking of Okara, which is one of the major byproducts in China. I will try to see if something can be done with it as well.
I saw another post in OpenIDEO's community and seems that you guys have the same idea :) Check this out:

Photo of Daniel Kurzrock

Hi Shengmin , Dan co-founder of ReGrained here. Loving this challenge and the IDEO community coming together to tackle food waste. You're spot on...Okara is totally a great analog to look at, it's one many nutritious/edible byproducts that could be looped back into the food system. Have you seen any exciting uses of it? 

Thanks for linking us to RISE's project! Bertha Jimenez and I have been in touch before. She actually interviewed me 3-4 years ago as a student when their idea was in much earlier stages. It looks like her colleague Ashwin Gopi also posted this interview with a brewery if you're curious for more context on what they are doing: Organic Food Waste in Brooklyn Part 2: Beer 

One way to frame our goal with ReGrained is that we are here to create a "waste" to value platform within the brewing industry that simultaneously reduces waste AND alchemizes delicious nutrition into the food system. We currently do this with our own ReGrained branded products, and will initiate "powered by ReGrained" ingredient partnerships with other food producers as we scale.

As self-coined "food waste alchemists," we are excited about the much broader concept Bertha's team is pursuing. If RISE- Recycling Food  can achieve critical mass, they can reduce the information asymmetry that currently exists between supply/demand, and facilitate the emergence of an industrial symbiosis marketplace.

As both of our companies develop, we should be able to find synergies and opportunities to collaborate. For example, rather than duplicate our efforts with beer grain, they could use us as the case study for the brewing industry's byproduct, and invest focus on another industry that is more overlooked (such as your idea with Okara).

As we build a more resourceful future together, we hope to be joined in this community by other food waste fighting brands. I am having a great time reading about several other exciting ones within this challenge! 

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

Hey Daniel Kurzrock , it's great to have you have you on the platform. The work that Jordan and you do is a huge inspiration to us. Also, your Honey Almond IPA bars are awesome! We would love to collaborate with regrained, it would be a great learning opportunity for us. You're right, one of the largest problems that we face is the lack of information and awareness. For example, brewers have no idea what to do with their spent grain. And don't even get me started with the bakers, they absolutely blanch at the idea of it! That's why we're working to create proof of concept products right in front of their eyes just to show them that there are possible applications. We're turning it into a flour to make it more approachable as an ingredient.

Also, the beer industry is just an example, we're interested in the broader context of waste in cities. We're also considering spent coffee from cafes and pomace from urban wineries. We're currently testing potential applications of those materials and showcasing them to interested businesses. Our goal is to become a marketplace for such materials and to help connect supply and demand. We're not that interested in making products like spent grain bread and coffee soaps ourselves. However, it's a necessary first step to create demand by helping businesses understand the value in these materials. Once that picks up, we will outsource logistics and intermediary processing to local businesses as we scale.

Photo of Daniel Kurzrock

Thanks for joining the conversation Ashwin Gopi and for your kind words about our IPA bar (the Stout is great too!!)  Stay tuned, because these two flavor are just the start.

You'll find similar situations in other urban areas. Brewers do not want to be wasteful, there just simply is no way for them to do their craft without being left with byproducts. Trust me, they are aware of how much of the waste there is: many of these brewers are manually shoveling grain from the mash tuns and hauling bins to the curb.

Our goal as systems thinkers should to be to ask "how might we" make the right thing the easy thing...both for the "producers" of "waste" (in our example brewers) and for the "consumers" (in our case, beer eaters). In my opinion, informatics is only one piece of the puzzle. 

Consider the fact that all of the byproducts you mentioned are wet.  The logistics involved with a heavy/wet/soon-to-be-rotting feedstock are complex. You mention that RISE- Recycling Food  plans to outsource this processing at a commercial/industrial scale. Have you encountered urban infrastructure for this type of intermediary processing? Do you see this industry infrastructure as a prerequisite for your marketplace to function? 

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

Great points Daniel Kurzrock , and I'm looking forward to your new flavors. I agree, and informatics is just a small part of our project. We are working with the brewers to help redesign their waste disposal process so that it not only becomes easier for them, but also convenient for us to collect and store the grain. 

For intermediate processing like drying and milling, there are some urban facilities on a small scale but they're too distributed and disconnected right now. Since the materials are dry, heavy and wet, a local intermediary process is necessary not only to preserve it, but also make it cheaper and easier to store and transport. Whether it is a prerequisite or not we'll have to figure out down the line. The only other cheap alternative to mechanical drying is chemical preservation through antioxidants, but that is a temporary and unhealthy placeholder.

Photo of Daniel Kurzrock

@Ashwin Gopi you might want to consider getting in touch with the team at @ NewFoodz. They've developed an edible coating that slows the onset of the rot. luck, and keep in touch with progress. 

Photo of Shengmin

Hi Daniel,
I like the term "food waste alchemists"! It captures the essence of utilizing food waste to generate something valuable.
I did a quick research on Okara and seems some people do use it to make desserts or snacks at home. According to them it's nutritious, delicious and with much lower calories. But I didn't see a solution in scale like ReGrained yet. It's a pity that you only ship within US now as I'm really curious to try it out :)
I guess next step for me is to do a deeper research on "Okara alchemist" and probable some other type of "food waste alchemists".
At the same time people's awareness and perception on food waste differs in different areas in the world hence their reaction on "food waste product" will vary as well. This is also an important aspect to take into consideration when developing this kind of products. 
Any suggestions are appreciated:)