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Upcycled certification program expands to Canada

New seal allows shoppers to identify upcycled ingredients and products
UpCycled Horizontal logo

Following a successful U.S. launch, the Upcycled Certified program is hitting store shelves in Canada.

The program was developed by the Upcycled Food Association (UFA), a Denver-based trade association for the upcycled food industry. Upcycled foods contain ingredients procured and produced with surplus food or food by-products from manufacturing. These ingredients would otherwise not have gone to human consumption.

“The certification is a consumer education tool that allows manufacturers to communicate to consumers that some of the ingredients in a given product contain food that would have otherwise gone to waste, and ultimately helps them prevent food waste,” says Ben Gray, co-founder and chief innovation officer at the Upcycled Food Association. “It’s really about putting all food to its best and highest use.”

The program certifies both ingredients and products. “It’s consumer-facing with the [on-package Upcycled Certified] mark, but it also helps ingredient suppliers add value to their ingredients in the supply chains,” says Gray.

The Canadian launch builds on what UFA says is the “rapid adoption” of the program in the U.S. To date, the program has already certified more than 200 food, beverage, cosmetics, pet food, cleaning, and home care products and ingredients, representing 35 companies. Collectively, UFA says this will prevent 820 million pounds of food waste in the next year.

In Canada, Impasta is one of the first using the Upcycled Certification mark on its packaging. The brand makes veggie-based pasta from spaghetti squash that would be deemed unfit for store shelves because of cosmetic scarring.

Upcycled Certified is administered by a third-party certification body, Where Food Comes From. In terms of requirements, upcycled ingredients (not sold directly to consumers) have to be 95% upcycled content by weight. Upcycled products must have a minimum of 10% upcycled ingredients by weight, or meet a specific threshold for tonnage diverted.

“Effectively, it’s a supply chain audit, making sure that the ingredients had at some point been going to waste,” says Gray. To be clear, he adds that upcycling does not take ingredients from waste and put them in products. “It’s keeping those ingredients in the supply chain for products that are meant for people and showing it was once going to waste and now it’s not.”

While interest from brands is growing, Gray says few consumers know what upcycled products are. But, citing a 2021 study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences, he adds that once consumers are educated about upcycled foods, 80% say they’d seek them out.

As for the role grocers can play, Gray says retailers are the gatekeepers for the upcycled foods movement. He says they can bring in more upcycled foods to their stores, work with suppliers to incorporate more upcycled ingredients, and look for private label opportunities.

Kroger, for example, has a line of baking mixes that use upcycled ingredients, under its Simple Truth store brand. In 2021, Kroger launched a US$2.5 million grant program to fund upcycled food startups.

“We see retailers as the key to helping educate consumers and hope we can continue to engage with even more retailers in the future,” says Gray.

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