Food insecurity, the inability to access or afford enough food or enough nutritious food for one’s overall health and well-being, is a serious problem in both developing and developed nations. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than one in five (21.6%) adults in the United States reported household food insecurity in the summer of 2022, an increase of more than 6% from April 2021.
One of the major contributors to food insecurity is colossal food waste. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 30 – 40 percent of the annual US food supply is wasted. It is a significant global issue, with approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption going to waste. This waste not only squanders valuable resources like water, land, and energy used in production but also contributes to food insecurity, as millions of people around the world lack access to an adequate and nutritious food supply.
Evidently, we can make significant headway in combating food insecurity by reducing food waste. Upcycling and extending the shelf life of food have emerged as two practical methods for addressing food waste.
Upcycling involves using food items that may not meet traditional commercial standards, such as misshapen fruits and vegetables or surplus food from supermarkets and restaurants, and transforming them into new products with added value. Examples include using bruised or surplus fruits to create fruit preserves or turning vegetable scraps into nutritious broths. This not only reduces food waste but also provides additional food options, contributing to increased food availability for vulnerable populations.
Shelf-life extension – Extending the shelf life of perishable foods can help prevent spoilage and reduce the need for early disposal, thereby reducing waste. This can be achieved through various techniques, such as improved storage facilities, modified atmosphere packaging, and the use of natural preservatives. By increasing the longevity of food products, more time is available for distribution and consumption, which can help ensure that food reaches those in need before it spoils.
Food waste solutions have remained top of mind for investors, consumers and innovators in 2023.
Investment in food waste solutions remains robust despite general pull back in overall investments given the current macroeconomic environment. As of July 2023, over $800M has been invested in food waste solutions this year (source ReFed). If this rate of investment persists for the balance of the year, 2023 investment levels would be comparable to 2022.
Demand and supply of upcycled food products on the rise
According to Global Market Insights, the worldwide upcycled food market was valued at $54B in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 5.7% over the next ten years, topping $94B in value by 2023. Innovative companies continue to introduce new upcycled products to meet customer demand. For example, Upcycled Inc partnered with Kroger to launch a new upcycled bread line – Seeded multigrain bread and Multigrain Quinoa Bread in May 2023.
Sustained investment in research and development is helping to create more efficient food preservation technologies that can help extend the shelf life of perishable items.
Through innovative technology, new solutions are being introduced to extend the shelf life of fruits and other perishables pre and post harvest.For example, JBT, a foodtech solutions provider, introduced an innovative plant-based coating designed to make fresh produce safer and last longer. The coating helps retain moisture in fruit, thereby delaying the onset of rot and extending the shelf life.
Keeping this focus on reducing food waste, we can make significant progress in alleviating food insecurity while promoting a more sustainable and responsible approach to food production and consumption.