‘Perfect fit’: South Korean food upcycling firm’s carbon-claimable flour alternative opens new avenues to hit nation’s 2050 net zero goals

By Pearly Neo contact

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea’s first food upcycling firm RE:Harvest has developed a flour alternative from beer and sikhye byproducts which has a direct claim on carbon emissions. ©RE:Harvest
South Korea’s first food upcycling firm RE:Harvest has developed a flour alternative from beer and sikhye byproducts which has a direct claim on carbon emissions. ©RE:Harvest

Related tags: South korea, Upcycling

South Korea’s first food upcycling firm RE:Harvest has developed a flour alternative from beer and sikhye byproducts which has a direct claim on carbon emissions, calling this a ‘perfect fit’ for F&B firms looking for options to hit the government’s 2050 net zero carbon emission goals.

RE:Harvest currently specializes in producing a flour alternative that is made from the byproducts of barley that has been used to make beer and sikhye (a traditional Korean drink), which is used to make a multitude of different products from pasta to granola.

“The flour alternative allows products to make a direct claim on carbon emissions – specifically, using 1kg of this flour means 11kg of carbon reduction and corresponding water savings too,”​ RE:Harvest CEO and Founder Alex Min told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“What this means is that we can provide a realistic ESG (Environmental, social and corporate governance) solution for the F&B industry, especially where costs are a concern and it can be hard for food manufacturers to make big changes to things like equipment to meet the government’s net zero carbon campaign goals.

“These firms are looking for alternative food sources to claim carbon reductions in line with these goals, and our flour alternative is a perfect fit to claim carbon saved. For instance, eating one RE:nergy energy bar means having saved about 0.3kg in carbon emissions and 211L water [which is] attractive to consumers too.

“The net zero carbon campaign has really impacted the entire F&B value chain from manufacturer to consumer and is driving the demand for eco-friendliness as well as the capital market – ESG is now at the centre of many investments, not tech or AI or so on like it was 10 years ago, and we’ve definitely seen a surge in demand since all the focus on carbon neutrality came in last year.”

RE:Harvest is currently working with six major breweries that supply barley byproducts exclusively to it at no cost, one of which is South Korean brewery giant Oriental Brewery, which is owned by AB InBev and the biggest brewery in the country with over 55% of market share.

“We get over 50% of our materials from these six contracted companies, which is about 22,000 tons of byproducts a month,”​ said Min.

“We also work with firms like Oriental Brewery and Kabrew to produce B2B2C products such as granola and frozen pizza, and also with some big-name restaurants such as those owned by [South Korean celebrity chef] Baek Jong-won to provide healthier, environmentally-friendly pasta and pizza dough.

“At the moment, we are also looking to expand our byproduct sourcing to include other sources - We are talking to Lotte for their soju byproducts, Bulo for makgeolli and some others for sesame and vinegar byproducts too.”

Apart from the carbon emission claims, RE:Harvest also holds an advantage in terms of a better nutritional proposition.

“The flour is naturally high in protein and fibre yet low in carbohydrates and calories, which also means there is no need to add any additives to the products to increase the protein value, such as is done with many products like energy bars,”​ said Min.

“So in addition to a high nutrition profile, the taste is also better as there are no additives. Moving forward as we move operations to a full-scale facility, we will also be able to bring costs down to have a cost advantage over other products.

“Currently there is still a bit of a premium as we are working from a pilot facility, but in future in a commercial facility, we can bring costs down to be 20% to 30% cheaper than products made from conventional flour as that is the cost of their raw material but our raw material is free.”

That said, he stressed that B2B2C product costs depend on the consumer-facing partners, who are currently still selling these at a premium locally in order to avoid consumer stigma of thinking these are ‘food waste products’ if sold at too low a price.

Challenges

As the first food upcycling firm in South Korea, Min highlighted that he faced some tough challenges obtaining approvals and licensing from the food safety authorities initially.

“It took us about one year of working with the Korean FDA before we finally got everything approved – our upcycled products are actually seen as novel products, and more importantly we saw a lot of pressure from traditional flour products who were obviously not happy with us coming up with a healthier and cheaper alternative,”​ he said.

“We are looking at expanding to more markets, and I do anticipate that the regulatory process might be even longer, especially in countries that are seeing food upcycling for the very first time.

“From a consumer perception perspective, we have seen some comments from older consumers saying they’re not going to buy products made from food waste especially at a premium – but I will say that over the past year, things have been getting better especially with more focus on ESG, UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the government perspective – all these have really helped.”

Min’s next target is Indonesia where he is in discussions with Heineken subsidiary Bintang, one of the largest beer brands locally.

“Indonesia will be our first target in the South East Asian region, and we are also talking to AB InBev about extending our cooperation beyond Korea to enter other APAC countries especially China and Japan which are geographically closer, and then also the United States,”​ he said.

RE:Harvest is a finalist in the Future Food Asia 2021 awards, and will be pitching at the conference which is happening between June 7 to 11 2021. FoodNavigator-Asia​ editor-in-chief Gary Scattergood will also be hosting a discussion with Cargill Asia Pacific on June 11 as part of the event.

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