Upcycling at its finest

The Bühler spin-off Circular Food Solutions AG (CFS) uses brewers’ spent grain to make bread, biscuits, and chocolate spreads healthier. The start-up has now succeeded in producing meat substitutes that are tasty, sustainable, and a great alternative to plant-based protein isolates.


Brewers’ spent grain is a real powerhouse. It’s rich in fiber, trace elements, and protein, and it could play an important role in the food industry. However, the majority of the estimated 30 to 40 million tons of brewers’ spent grain produced annually as a by-product in beer production worldwide has thus far only been used as animal feed or it ends up as waste. “The reason brewers’ spent grain has not been put to better use until now – even though people have been brewing beer for 3,000 years – is because it is a challenge to efficiently achieve a safe and consistently high-quality product for industrial processing,” explains Carsten Petry, CEO at CFS, which produces Legria, an ingredient made with spent grain.


Carsten Petry, CEO at Circular Food Solutions AG Carsten Petry, CEO at Circular Food Solutions AG
It is only thanks to Bühler’s efficient technology that it is now possible to use brewers’ spent grain profitably.

Carsten Petry, CEO at Circular Food Solutions AG

The important thing in the upcycling of brewers’ spent grain is to preserve valuable ingredients while ensuring food safety and accomplish this in an efficient and environmentally friendly way. “Thanks to the latest technology from Bühler, we have been able to produce Legria powder for use as an ingredient; this means producing a substance as well as manufacturing a wide variety of food products with Legria that meet all the important requirements. We are especially proud that we are now also in a position to produce plant-based meat substitutes,” says Petry. 


The crux of the matter is the relatively complex steps required to process brewers’ spent grain. “It is only thanks to Bühler’s efficient technology that it is now possible to use the by-product profitably,” says Petry. Plant proteins will play a crucial role when it comes to feeding the increasing population in the future. Due to the high demand, there are already supply problems, for example with pulses. Legria can help reduce the reliance on pulses for meat substitutes. “With Legria, we can add value to a by-product while helping to close the protein gap by using plant proteins,” says Friedrich Witschi, Business & Application Development Officer at CFS.

Legria is sustainable, nutritious, and delicious. Legria is sustainable, nutritious, and delicious.
Friedrich Witschi joined Legria in 2021 as Business & Application Development Officer at CFS. Friedrich Witschi joined Legria in 2021 as Business & Application Development Officer at CFS.

“Legria is an excellent example of upcycling by-products to create more value. As such, it reflects our focus on creating value from every kilo of material that leaves the field. We cannot afford to utilize valuable agricultural land to generate waste. With the current transition to more sustainable protein sources it provides a more sustainable option for product formulation,” says Ian Roberts, CTO at Bühler and Chairman of CFS. Most meat substitutes available today are based on soy. “Legria powder is an interesting alternative to soy,” Witschi explains. It contains approximately 22 percent protein and is used in combination with other protein sources, such as peas or wheat gluten. Thanks to the fibers in Legria, we achieve a texture that is very similar to that of meat.”

The story behind Legria

When colleagues Carsten Petry and Mary Olwal attended the internal “Master of Bühler Management” (MBM) training course in 2015 and developed a business idea, they identified the Legria concept as an opportunity to use and upgrade existing resources in a sustainable way and turn them into healthy food. The Urs Bühler Innovation Fund (UBIF) immediately recognized the potential of the business idea: “With the upcycling of brewers’ spent grain, we have the opportunity to create healthy and sustainable products that provide added value for brewers and consumers,” says Peter Stähli, CEO at the Swiss Entrepreneurs Foundation, member of the UBIF Advisory Board and Member of the Board of Directors at CFS. 

UBIF supported the start-up founded by Petry and Olwal from the initial idea through acceleration to the financing of the market launch. “Legria is an example of how we support intrapreneurs systematically at Bühler,” says Johannes Wick, CEO of Business Grains & Food at Bühler and Member of the Board of Directors at CFS. With this support from Bühler and other partner companies, the young entrepreneurs have developed an innovative processing and application solution that transforms brewers’ spent grain into an ingredient that contains 54 percent fiber and 20 percent protein. The upgrading of the brewers’ spent grain is just the first step.

The long-term goal is to profitably add value to a wide variety of by-products in the food industry. Friedrich Witschi joined Legria in 2021 as a Business & Application Development Officer to contribute his many years of experience in this area. The team founded Circular Food Solutions AG (CFS) in 2021 to prepare for market launch and allow prospective investors to invest in this forward-looking company. 

Tasty and healthy

But what exactly is Legria? To brew beer, barley is germinated briefly and then dried again, which is how malt is produced. It contains the enzymes that are important for the brewing process and to convert the malt starch into sugar during the mashing process in the brewhouse. After the mashing process and saccharification, the solid components are separated. Brewers’ spent grain remains as a by-product of this process. “What’s special is that it’s a natural, unprocessed raw substance that is available in large quantities and can be turned into a tasty ingredient or even an end product through technology,” says Witschi. Legria powder is low in sugar and contains high levels of B vitamins, calcium, and micronutrients such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. It has been demonstrated that the high fiber content of over 55 percent supports intestinal health.

Various studies prove the positive effect of dietary fiber on the gut and the health of the entire organism. Since the modern Western diet is very low in fiber, Legria-enriched products can help increase fiber content in a simple way. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 30 grams of fiber a day. By eating a Legria burger patty weighing 125 grams, one can obtain 10 percent of the recommended daily requirement. By adding a slice of Legria bread, another 10 percent are added. “The great thing about Legria is that we can provide a full-flavor experience and a health benefit at the same time,” Witschi explains. Legria can also improve the nutritional value of products significantly. “We have customers who have managed to increase the nutrition score of their product by an entire level with Legria.”

The brilliant thing about Legria is that we can provide a full-flavor experience while providing a health benefit at the same time.

Friedrich Witschi, Business & Application Development Officer, Circular Food Solutions AG

Various trials are currently underway with potential customers. One company that has already successfully tested the Legria products is the SV Group, a leading restaurant and hotel management group based in Zurich. Restaurant manager Franco Trivelli frequently uses Legria products for his dishes in the SV Restaurant Viva in Uzwil, Switzerland: “Sustainable and healthy meals are our priority. Legria meat substitutes achieve both. It’s very versatile and easy to use, from lasagna to samosas.” 

The CFS team has carried out tests on an industrial scale already. Petry and Witschi are so confident in their product that they have already produced 100 tons of Legria powder that can be used to make meat substitutes or bread. “This stock means we can supply customers quickly and easily,” explains Witschi. Legria powder can be purchased directly. “We also provide support if someone wants to use our formula for textured products or develop their own products that are not yet available on the market.”

A wide range of applications

Legria powder can be used in a great variety of ways. In baked goods, cookies, chocolate spreads, and breakfast cereal. Legria makes it possible to reduce sugar content by up to 50 percent. “All without compromising on texture or taste,” says Petry. When it comes to bread, consumers benefit from the high fiber and protein content of Legria. The Niffeler bakery in Henau near Uzwil has developed a bread with the Legria team. “The big challenge was to specify the right quantity of Legria,” explains Sämi Niffeler, a master baker and confectioner. 

Thanks to the fibers in the Legria powder, a texture very close to that of meat is achieved. Thanks to the fibers in the Legria powder, a texture very close to that of meat is achieved.
We share the same company culture: we’re both family-owned, down to earth, with an undeterred focus on delivering the best quality to our customers.

Johannes Wick, CEO Grains & Food at Bühler

In the first step, he succeeded in producing bread with 5 percent Legria. In the meantime, the master baker has further refined the recipe, and the bread now contains 10 percent Legria. “The bread is grainier and perhaps a bit nutty, but it doesn’t stand out in terms of taste from a conventional wholegrain bread,” says Niffeler. The Legria bread is popular with his customers. “Now it’s just a question of getting Legria known and gaining a foothold in the market,” adds Witschi. The team also has a long-term goal of creating a large industrial plant for Legria. Legria has already overcome some important hurdles, but it still has a long way to go: “Working on innovations takes a lot of patience and perseverance, and you must be able to keep going. It helps to have a partner like Bühler by your side,” says CEO Petry.


Watch the video about the creation of Bühler bread with Legria at the Niffeler Bakery.

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