Through its proprietary technology, the company transforms organic, high-fiber food by-product streams into nutritious raw ingredients.
The recent EAT-Lancet review of
our global food system has been widely welcomed because of its efforts to
connect, for the first time, scientific targets for both healthy diets and
sustainable food production around the world. By aligning itself with both the
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate
Agreement, it helpfully outlines how we might deliver a sustainable and
healthy food system for 10 billion people, all within our planetary boundaries,
by the middle of the century.
Of course, it won’t be easy. Meeting such goals will require unprecedented
collaboration and true transformation of a system that has served us well for
the last hundred years, but is ill-equipped to serve us in the future. While
global production of calories has kept pace with population growth, around 820
million people still lack enough food. And many more of us are forced to eat too
much food of lower quality.
Meanwhile, our global agricultural sector occupies 40 percent of land, and the
food system is responsible for up to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas
emissions and 70 percent of freshwater withdrawals.
It is a conundrum — producing better-quality food with less impact on the
environment — that Claire Schlemme and Sumit Kadakia, co-founders of
San Francisco Bay Area-based Renewal Mill,
are set on solving.
The company’s mission is two-fold: to extract
out of food system by-products — following in the footsteps of startups such as
— and to address the lack of affordable nutrition in food
Through its proprietary technology, it transforms organic, high-fiber food
by-product streams into nutritious raw ingredients.
“On a macro level, we were troubled by the waste of by-products in a food system
where 40 million Americans are food insecure and 97 percent of Americans are
fiber deficient,” Schlemme told Sustainable Brands in a recent interview.
By following the current, linear supply chain models of today’s food system,
consumer packaged goods companies are missing out on affordable and sustainable
sources of tasty nutrition that can be used to create whole new classes of
“Serving mass-market customers with organic, natural and healthier-for-you
products represents a $60 billion opportunity,” Schlemme asserts.
So, the company set about using an automated dryer, with combined ceramic and
steam heating elements, to dehydrate wet and heavy by-product materials within
an existing factory. Right now, that factory is owned by plant-based foods
producer Hodo Foods in nearby Oakland, which
is piloting the technology. There, Schlemme and her team are producing okara
flour, a superfood flour made from the by-product of soy milk manufacturing.
It is organic, non-GMO, low-carb and a natural replacement for refined,
Hodo Foods produces more than 4 million pounds of okara a year in a food-safe
environment. However, due to the energy intensity required to stabilize okara
and the current lack of an established market at medium-scale production, Hodo
has not had an avenue to extract value from the okara. Instead, the company has
had to rely on free, though often inconsistent and inefficient, pickups from
independent farmers to handle this waste stream.
“Almost all other food processors experience these same problems. We founded
Renewal Mill to solve this,” Schlemme says.
The first ingredient the team has produced is Organic Okara Flour. According to
Schlemme, it has six times the fiber and a “better taste than current
alternative flours,” at 20 percent of the price.
“We’ve partnered with some of the best culinary minds in the US to help develop
accessible, okara-based products,” she says. “We recognized the need to focus on
creating a superior product, ensuring we received high visibility placement
within convenience stores and be able to produce our product at a price point
on-par with national brands.”
The first product is a range of single-serve cookies that “taste better than
existing Grandma’s or Famous Amos options” but are plant-based, clean
and a good source of fiber. The business will soon be distributing these to
stores across the Southeastern US — a deal that will have the equivalent
greenhouse gas emissions reduction impact of planting 85 trees a week, according
to the company.
Schlemme says Renewal Mill has barely scratched the surface on its initial
market of finding value in by-products captured from the $1.7 billion non-dairy
US milk market.
“Our technology is low cost and can be replicated quickly to facilities across
the country,” she says. “We already have 60 percent of okara from all whole soy
products produced in the US in our future installation pipeline.”
Next up, Schlemme says the company will explore how pea okara might be used
to create a low glycemic index version of Gatorade.
“Our long-term vision is to create a new circular economy of food that both
reduces wastes and delivers affordable nutrition and taste to those who need it
most,” she adds. “Our role in this new circular economy will be as a combined
consumer packaged goods and business-to-business distributed ingredients
producer, where by-products from one production facility are processed to
precisely meet the needs of another facility.”