Increasingly innovative processes are changing the way base ingredients are used in product manufacturing in order to minimise waste and support sustainability efforts. Brands are also re-using and re-purposing already available materials that would otherwise have gone to waste, such as misshapen or over- or under-sized produce. This saves on the resources needed to produce them from scratch as well.
For example, brands such as Black Cow Vodka and Discarded use upcycled ingredients and by-products from other food production process: Black Cow’s whey-based vodka is created from by-products of the cheese-making process and was originally launched in 2012; and William Grant-backed Discarded Spirits Co first launched in 2018 with a vermouth made with cascara – the dried skins of coffee berries discarded during the coffee-making process – before adding a rum made with banana peel salvaged from flavour houses in 2019, and a vodka distilled from the grape skins, seeds and stalks discarded during wine production in 2021.
Brands are also assessing and addressing the waste produced during their own processes, as well as using it to create new products. Using a proprietary process, family-owned gin-maker Hayman’s has created a vodka from the grain alcohol left over from its gin production. Meanwhile, in 2021, AB InBev introduced its own spent grain project and company, EverGrain, to tackle waste created through its brewing operations. Through the upcycling of grain from its brewing operations, it supplies barley-based “nutrient-rich ingredients” to commercial food producers.
Of the brands upcycling food waste generated elsewhere in the supply chain, the list of base ingredients that can be transformed into viable alcohol products is growing, and now includes options such as avocado seeds and pasta. Whey – sourced from cheese, tofu, and the yogurt-making industries – seems to be an increasingly popular choice. Indeed, the Spare Food Co turns waste yogurt itself into tonics. New York-based Norwhey is tapping into the hard seltzer category with a range that uses whey as a base. Upcycled bread and bakery products have also long been a choice for beer and spirit brands, including Toast Ale, San Diego’s Misadventure Vodka, and Australia’s Hang 10 Distillery.
Such shifts to sustainable production are having a trickle-down effect across the industry, as established brands rethink their use of raw ingredients in current products. For example, Pernod Ricard’s coffee liqueur brand Kahlúa announced plans to make its product entirely from sustainable coffee, as a result of new measures put in place with its coffee-farming communities in Veracruz, Mexico. It has also created a free toolkit to help other brands implement more sustainable business practices.
As technologies improve and investments in researching the upcycling of food waste continue, the drinks industry will likely see more of these approaches moving into the mainstream. With consumers sensitive to greenwashing, brands that take an authentic and committed approach to sustainability are likely to find their efforts resonate with the market.
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