What sustainable start-ups has Mondelēz International singled out?

Reimagining food waste like coffee grounds and a secret traceability system are being backed by the food giant.

15 May 2019
bakerycoffeefood wastehealthsustainabilitytechnology
image credit: Getty Images

This may come as a shock, but there is no plant-based product in sight among the start-ups selected for Mondelēz International’s global innovation hub, SnackFutures.

The multinational company held a sustainable competition as part of its mission to create snacks that are good for people, kind to the planet and deliciously fun, ultimately selecting two entries to participate in an innovation acceleration workshop with Mondelēz International’s experts.

One of these was Kaffe Bueno, a Danish enterprise that upcycles spent coffee grounds from industrial coffee waste and transforms them into nutritious ingredients for food and wellness products. (Food Spark has previously explored how chefs are reimagining coffee waste in dishes and taking the ingredient from brew to food, including in chains like Caffe Nero.)

The other winner was a UK company called In-Code Technologies, which is using an emerging technology to create edible, in-product traceability markers designed to improve food safety and increase consumer trust in the food supply.

“Sustainability is an innovation priority for SnackFutures because it’s what consumers want,” said Brigette Wolf, head of SnackFutures Innovation.“We’re committed to growing our business and making our snacks the right way, with positive impact for people and planet.”

Brewing up something new

So how could this pair of start-ups change the world of food?

Kaffe Bueno transforms spent coffee grounds into edible oil, creating an item that can be used in skincare while also functioning as a sweetener, natural colourant and preservative in food and beverages. Additionally, the brand has manufactured a coffee flour to fortify baked goods.

The product development is a response to the huge amounts of coffee being drunk worldwide. In 2018, over 9bn kilos of coffee were consumed globally – that’s 2.25bn cups every day. Spent grounds often end up as waste in plastic bags mixed with other trash in garbage dumps, and the yearly environmental impact of coffee waste decomposition is equivalent to 16.3m car emissions.

According to Kaffe Bueno, drinking a cup of coffee is also a very inefficient way of absorbing the bean’s health-enhancing compounds – it estimates that only 1% are utilised. However, these are still present in used coffee grounds, which have a high level of antioxidants and fatty acids, as well as anti-microbial effects.

Kaffe Bueno’s used coffee grounds are sourced from cafes and hotels in Copenhagen. A biotechnology process is employed to extracts the oils, which also leaves behind the naturally gluten-free flour. For those worried about a strong overpowering flour flavour, the process neutralises most of it, instead leaving a nutty, caramel, chocolatey taste, according to the start-up.

The flour is also said to boast a number of health benefits, including more potassium than a banana, a higher fibre content than wholegrain flour, three times more protein than almond flour, and less calories and fat than buckwheat and coconut flour. The start-up reckons it can be used in everything from bread and cinnamon rolls, to cookies and crackers, to pizza and pasta, as well as snacks like granola and protein bars.

Within the next five years, Kaffe Bueno are planning to recycle 1,600 tonnes of coffee yearly, which is equivalent to 3m average car emissions per year.

image credit: Getty Images

Stealth mode

Meanwhile, In-Code Technologies wants to disrupt the annual $52bn food fraud trade, which includes counterfeiting, dilution and substitution in products.

“The economic and health concerns associated with fake food is an incredibly important issue, and something that we as a business want to try and solve,” said CEO and co-founder Joe Tilley.

Utilising technology that could fit into James Bond film, the company has created invisible markers to test authenticity and offer supply chaintraceability from farm to consumer. Described as crypto-anchors, which are the equivalent of digital fingerprints, the markers are placed in an invisible solution and can also link to a blockchain system.

The chemical is odourless and has been approved in the EU and US as an inactive food ingredient.

“Not only can we identify if it’s real or fake, we can create over 67m unique codes with this one chemical that allows us to authenticate products in the supply chain. This is a game changer,” explained Tilley.

Companies like Nestle and Carrefour have recently announced plans to use blockchain on products like potatoes and milk, although Tilley warned that blockchain comes with its own issues, as it relies on receiving correct data from the supply chain.

Tilley envisions the markers being used by brands to prove claims around commodities like palm oil, coffee and hazelnuts.

“Our markers are sprayed onto palm branches, and because of their heat stability and process stability, they can be used to trace the palm – all the way through the farm to factories around the world,” he said.

It can also detect dilution, for example if a blend of unsustainable palm oil is added to the original product.

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