Upcycling, a process by which by-products and waste materials are transformed into new materials or products that have greater value, is the holy grail of the circular economy. In the beer brewing process, the starch of the barley is used to produce beer. The leftover is known as spent grain. Traditionally this is used as feed for animals. But much of the nutritious part of the grain is in this spent grain.
Swiss entrepreneur Christoph Nyfeler has entered a joint venture with Bühler AG to establish the new company Circular Food Solutions Switzerland AG, based in Lenzburg, Switzerland. The partnership combines Bühler’s processing expertise and intellectual property with CN & Partners’ skills, experience, and network in order to bring a new solution to the plant-based meat market. Circular Food Solutions Switzerland will source brewers’ spent grain from Swiss breweries that use Swiss malt. “We are working closely with Bühler on detailed engineering at the chosen location. If we can secure an efficient supply chain, we expect the operation to start by summer 2023,” says Nyfeler.
Tasty, sustainable, and local
The market for plant-based meat is growing fast with a compound annual growth rate of 15 to 20%. There is therefore a need for additional protein sources that provide a more sustainable option for product formulation. Circular Food Solutions Switzerland has several key advantages over other plant-based meat products in this respect.
The main raw materials used by Circular Food Solutions Switzerland – brewers’ spent grains – are often disposed of by brewers. “Valorizing this side stream contributes to the circular economy and helps reduce food waste. Furthermore, we will be using regionally sourced ingredients as the production facility will be close to the main raw material supplier. This means it will be far more sustainable than other plant-based alternatives with long supply routes,” says Nyfeler. A further feature that reduces the environmental impact is that the fresh brewer’s spent grains are taken and processed directly without the need for an energy intensive drying process.
Circular Food Solutions Switzerland offers other advantages, too, that are attractive to consumers. Products made by Circular Food Solutions Switzerland are naturally rich in fibers, proteins, and micronutrients. The meat substitutes also offer superior texture and taste, as proven through several blind taste tests with market peers.
Innovation combined with entrepreneurship
The original idea for using brewers’ spent grains in this way came out of an innovation competition at Bühler. The team behind it saw the opportunity to create a new product out of this valuable side stream and have driven its development through a start-up, Circular Food Solutions AG (CFS Global), that has since been spun off from Bühler. With CN & Partners AG, Bühler has found a true entrepreneur with the start-up mentality to create the route to market and proof of concept. “In January 2022 we started production of Swiss malt with Schweizer Mälzerei AG, and very soon we will be able to provide a true Swiss upcycling nutrition product,” says Nyfeler.
“This is a great example of circular economy. We extract valuable elements out of regionally produced food waste, mix them with other protein-rich sources, and produce high quality, nutritious food in Switzerland. It is also truly sustainable because we use each barley kernel twice – once to produce beer, and then to produce the meat replacement,” says Carsten Petry, CEO of CFS Global.
Bühler intends to make this capability available in different countries. “We would like to find entrepreneurs in other parts of the world who, like CN & Partners, can provide the local production and retail contacts, and experience, and would like to partner with us in a similar way,” says Wick. “We are looking to join forces to drive a truly sustainable circular economy in meat alternatives.”