Food and Agriculture in the Circular Economy
Many people know that almost 40% of our food is wasted, but nobody seems to mention that before animal products even reach consumers' plates, animal agriculture has already lost 90% of the calories used as inputs to produce them... How does this happen?
Let's look at the example of defatted seeds (the dry matter left after the oil is extracted from the seeds) that are fed as concentrates to animals today.
From the initial 100% of the calories in the defatted seeds, humans get only 17% of that number of calories if we feed defatted seeds to poultry and then consume poultry. We get 9% of that total if we feed defatted seeds to pigs and then consume pork, and 3% (3!) of that total when we feed defatted seeds to cows, and then consume the beef.
In the meantime, defatted seeds themselves can be used for human consumption, which would make available 100% of those initial calories. If we repurposed all of the defatted seeds wasted or fed to livestock, and made them available for human consumption, we could feed 1.5 billion people for an entire year, without growing any more crops than we already do.
To demonstrate the feasibility of this idea, we made sunflower chips that consumer love from defatted seeds. We encourage you to try them and join our movement! Together, let's use defatted seeds to make even more products like ramen, cereals, and baked goods to right a wrong in our food and agriculture system.
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Normally, when we mention food in the context of the Circular Economy, we speak about food waste. This is undoubtedly a huge problem, as at least a third of food is wasted:
But THAT IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG
“Averaged over all [animal agriculture] categories, caloric and protein efficiencies are 7%–8%. At 3% in both metrics, beef is by far the least efficient” - says the study by A Shepon, et al.
That means before food is even made, animal agriculture has wasted 93% of the nutrients put into it.
So what if we start earlier, before nutrients are wasted, and up-cycle underutilized ingredients, turning them into human food?
Can doing so help reduce the impact on the planet?
As you can see from the chart, animal agriculture occupies 83% of our farmland, but provides only 18% of our calories. So the answer is a resounding yes!
The study referenced above, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication), and air pollution (acidification).
“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research.
Can upcycling defatted seeds help feed our growing population?
Looking at the annual volume of defatted seeds in the world, we made some calculations:
Defatted seeds are the dry matter left after oils are extracted from many crops such as sunflower seeds, cotton seeds, canola, etc. The world's supply of defatted seeds in 2017 was 334.82 million metric tons according to the USDA.
We totaled the calories from the annual supply of defatted seeds, and divided that number by the FDA recommended 2000 cal per day. We then divided that number by 365 (days in a year) and figured out that the annual supply of defatted seeds can feed 1.5 billion people.
Can we make people healthier?
Recent studies show that plant-based proteins are healthier than animal proteins, and fiber is beneficial for your microbiome.
According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, obesity, heart and other diet-related diseases cost the US healthcare system 1.4 trillion dollars annually.
It looks like there is tremendous potential in front of us. And now we've arrived at the purpose of my speech:
How can we make it real?
Our company, PLANETARIANS up-cycles defatted seeds using extrusion technology, and makes ingredients that every food manufacturer can use to turn regular food into superfood. SunMeal is allergen free and non-GMO, unlike soy-based proteins. SunMeal is 5x cheaper than pea protein, and is a good source of fiber.
We use extrusion technology to cook, sterilize and texturize defatted sunflower seeds in one step. Our technology was tested at the University of Minnesota and the nutrition facts were certified by General Mills. PLANETARIANS plans to scale our technology for use with other crops (Canola, Cottonseed, etc.) all around the world.
Who needs sunmeal?
Shifting consumer preferences toward healthier choices has created a robust marketplace for functional and value-added ingredients.
From Nielsen reports, we see that plant-based products drive growth across a variety of stagnant or declining categories. Replacing 30% of the all-purpose flour in a product with SunMeal doubles the protein and fiber content, while keeping the price the same. Replacing 50% of the all-purpose flour with SunMeal triples the protein and fiber content. This is why Mattson, the most successful independent food and drink product development company in North America, approached us.
What kind of products can we make?
SunMeal creates an opportunity for manufacturers to fortify food products and increase their nutritional content at a fraction of the cost of competing ingredients. For example, chips from defatted sunflower seeds offer 3x more protein, 2x more fiber and 3x less fat per serving than typical potato chips, and have a lower price compared to soy-fortified protein chips.
Traction within the first three months after launch on Amazon - we brought in $37K in sales, at a 69% average monthly growth rate - shows that customers love it.
More "Good for You" products can be made:
Our company plans to expand SunMeal as an ingredient for use in doughs, ramen, pretzels and many other applications.
Plant-based proteins drive demand in the following categories: prepared foods ($15B), salty snacks ($27B), cookies and crackers ($15B), diet and nutrition ($66B), cereal and granola ($8.5B), desserts ($12B), yogurts ($7.6B).
What about the opportunity for manufacturers?
But defatted seeds might be interesting not only for food companies. The plant-based protein market grows at a 6.7% CAGR and is projected to reach $11B by 2022.
Looking at the competitive landscape, you might notice that many companies offer plant-based proteins. It’s an established market. And on the other side, there are fiber suppliers. Fortunately, defatted seeds have both protein and fiber. Manufacturers can offer two ingredients at the price of one.
is it worth it?
By repurposing defatted seeds from animal into human food, manufacturers add value to their ingredients and can potentially double or triple their profits.
What’s most interesting - this does not require any extra capital investment. The majority of crushing plants have all the needed extrusion equipment. For those who want to start from scratch, the math is as follows: a typical plant needs $2.5M per location, recoups the investment in the 4th year, and brings $10M in profits within 20 years of operations.
How can we scale it?
The beauty of the Circular Economy is that it excites a lot of people from the get-go. It’s a rare opportunity to make the world better and capitalize on it.
We think that mainstreaming information about the power of plant-based foods, sharing our technology, and joining forces - as we're doing here in the Seed & Chips Arena at the Fancy Food Show, and as the Ellen Macarthur Foundation does - is what everyone should do. So we are contributing what we can, and are giving everyone the opportunity to join our innovation challenge: “Food into Super Food.”
Join today, get your free bag of defatted seeds, make a product, and start your own business. In doing so, you can help improve people diets, right a wrong in animal agriculture, and join a cool team of game changers.
About the author: Aleh Manchuliantsau is a food developer at PLANETARIANS. He previously created and sold over 1 million bottles of nutritionally complete meals. Right now, Aleh is working on up-cycling food waste into tasty and healthy snacks. His goal? To feed a growing population without the need to grow more crops.