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Oct 27, 2022 3:30:07 PM5 min read

Upcycled cocoa: our zero waste bet for a sustainable supply chain

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]María Paula Rodríguez, Senior Business Innovation Manager at Luker Chocolate [/author_info] [/author]

Every day, industries are generating more and more waste, enough to fill over 800,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Pollution and climate change are real problems that affect everyone regardless of nationality, gender, or race. Therefore, there is an urgent need to find ways of producing goods based on sustainability and environmentally respectful practices.

Navigate this short menu and find answers to this growing trend in chocolate manufacturing: 

Consumers today are increasingly aware of the importance of making reasonable use of natural resources and the impact their purchasing decisions have. That has led companies to accommodate their practices to satisfy those ethical concerns. Today, recycling is not enough, all kinds of industries should have to adopt methods of upcycling to take the reuse of waste a step further, and the food industry is no stranger to this trend.

But, what exactly upcycling is and what is its relevance to the food industry? Upcycling means using products, waste, or residues to produce new materials or products of higher quality and greater ecological value with a determining factor: creativity. In fact, this practice is limitless and depends on the imagination of the producer. Hence, upcycling is an alternative to mass consumption. A creative tool to solve and reinvent what already exists, promoting the circular economy, and taking advantage of the resources we already have.

Solving the food waste problem in the chocolate industry

Sustainability is one of the pillars of our company culture. We are committed to tackling climate change, preventing pollution, and seeking to be a company carbon neutral by 2030. We found in upcycled cocoa an innovative approach to reduce our business's environmental impact and positively transform the cocoa value chain.

upcycling cocoa trendOur R&D team work tirelessly to find solutions for a sustainable cocoa supply chain.

Today, companies of all sizes are acting to reduce food waste through upcycling. Luker Chocolate is closely updated on those changes affecting the food industry, so we have been working recently on the development of new products from cocoa waste reuse.

In fact, in the production of chocolate, only 18.3% of cacao fruit is used, which means that 81.7% of the fruit is being underutilized, missing significant opportunities to innovate in the creation of new cocoa-based products. 

“Our industry faces a major challenge with this scenario. Using our innovation methodology and in alliance with the Research team, we are working on new alternatives to upcycle cocoa waste. In order to make this possible, we are inspired by technologies from various industries to design our processes and we rely on allies who have experience and know-how in different product categories that we are starting to explore”, says María Paula Rodríguez, Senior Business Innovation Manager at Luker Chocolate.

Our final goal is to enhance cocoa farming profit 

On the other hand, aside from the problem of food waste, there is another essential thing to mention: farmers' income. In traditional chocolate production, farmers usually receive income only for harvesting the beans, but now "upcycling allows us to innovate in the manufacture of new products from cocoa waste, providing additional income to smallholders and generating new jobs in the industry," says Rodríguez.

Cocoa is more than beans, is a sustainable cocoa fruit

Most people know what chocolate is, but a few know that tasty and creamy chocolate is made from a seed of a fruit: cocoa fruit. But there is much more than merely its seeds. This fruit grown near the Equator consists of peel, a white and sweet fruit pulp, juice and seeds (beans). Nevertheless,  the pulp and the juice are usually discarded during the chocolate-making process.

And here is where upcycling appears as an intelligent solution! Our team have developed new methods and found clever ways to use fruit repurposing the pulp and juice of the cocoa fruit, opening up new possibilities for food and beverages and gastronomy in general. According to the Upcycled Food Association, upcycling cacao fruit would reduce the same amount of CO2 as planting 3.5 billion trees annually.

In addition, cocoa fruit has many nutritional and functional properties that can be exploited in different industries, not only the food one. "In our company, we have been working on a high-tech pilot plant to find new applications for cocoa, and thus expand our portfolio to new categories different to food such as beauty and personal care products, biomaterials and energy", says the expert. 

Hence, we see upcycling food waste as a significant opportunity to educate consumers and industry about responsible consumption's positive impact on the environment.

Upcycling in the food industry

Is it a fad? Not really. This phenomenon is a growing movement rooted in consumer product-based solutions, making it an attractive and innovative solution to the problem of food waste. 

Actually, this practice contributes to one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN for 2030: reducing food waste. Over 30% of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste, and that's a huge problem for society and the planet, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Instead of discarding vegetables and fruits used during the production process, upcycling transforms and converts these leftovers into healthy and nutritional, quality food. For example, food waste can be used to make several products including snacks, protein powders, dietary supplements, cosmetics, beverages, and even pet food.

wasted cocoa podsThese cocoa pods could also be part of farmers' income  

Upcycling not only helps the environment but also brings economic revenue. By reusing materials that others may not find desirable, great savings can be made on the purchase of supplies for business or personal use. This practice could also help create new jobs in the food industry in the upcoming years. 

A recent study by Future Market Insights, a market research consulting firm, found that the global products from food waste market size was valued at USD 52.91 billion in 2022, and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 4.6% to reach USD 83.26 billion by 2032.

Take a look at our vision of the future of cacao farming for the next decade, and how we plan to reach the goal of a modern and sustainable food industry that contributes to the circular economy. Read more here!