Loop Mission has as its founding mission to save the outcasts of the food industry—particularly fruits and vegetables—and repurpose them. The Canadian company started with cold-pressed juices but has since realized that they can find new life for all kinds of foods that would otherwise be tossed.
David Côté founded Loop with Julie Poitras-Saulnier (now his wife) six years ago. He had been looking for a way to have a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions when he received a call from someone at a distribution center in Canada who told him that the center was throwing away 16 to 25 tons of fruits and vegetables every day. After visiting the warehouse and studying the situation more, Côté and Poitras-Saulnier were convinced.
|Learn how other companies in the food and beverage industry are upcycling all manner of byproducts to use as ingredients in other foods, leading the charge in tackling food waste.|
“We just couldn’t believe how much waste there was with produce that were still perfectly good for consumption but that were at a point of ripeness that it was too late for them to be distributed through the whole cycle of distribution,” Côté says, speaking during a session of Hiperbaric’s HPP Innovation Week. “Those fruits were perfectly good to eat, but it was already too late for them to be sat on a shelf in a grocery store for a consumer to buy.”
Côté learned that more than one-third of food is wasted worldwide. In North America, almost 45% of food is wasted before it reaches a consumer’s table. “And what’s even more shocking is that 80% of that waste comes from the industry itself and not the consumer,” he says.
Côté left the kombucha company he had founded and Poitras-Saulnier left her job as a sustainability specialist at a large corporation, she sold her house, he sold part of his business, and they invested about $40,000 in their new endeavor. First called Loop Juices, the business focused on turning rescued fruits into cold-pressed juice.
The Upcycled Food Association—an organization dedicated to preventing food waste by promoting the upcycling of byproducts and other leftovers—did not yet exist, and the concept of upcycling food was not well known. But what Loop was doing was getting a lot of attention.
“Everybody started calling Loop to tell us how much they were wasting; we became a call center for food waste for the industry,” Côté says. “And now, six years later, we get phone calls from people like Del Monte, Conagra, Kraft Canada, and Kraft USA. Everybody’s calling us to tell us, ‘Here’s what we’re wasting. Can you do something about it?’ So we rapidly realized that we were not going to be called Loop Juice for a while, and we became Loop Mission.”
The company’s product line in Canada now includes beer brewed with day-old bread, gin distilled using potato cuttings from a potato chip factory, and soaps made with rejected cooking oil.
High pressure processing is essential
From the beginning, Loop was reliant on one key technology to make its food rescue efforts successful: high pressure processing (HPP).
Without HPP, the produce that Loop is trying to rescue would be unusable within three days, Côté notes. “If we make this juice, the juice has only three days’ shelf life, and then it ferments, it oxidizes, and it’s not good anymore,” he says. “HPP brought us the technology to keep those juices very tasty, with the same taste as if it were made at home without HPP. We’re adding no preservatives, adding no water, adding no pasteurization—we don’t pasteurize, we don’t heat the product. In this way, we don’t alter the taste or alter the integrity in terms of nutrient content. We just put it in the HPP machine, and suddenly it has an 80- to 100-day shelf life or even 120 days for juice with a different pH—making sustainability possible.”
Using pasteurization to rescue the produce would have put Loop into a market where they didn’t see a way to compete. Those shelves are owned by major corporations, Côté says, selling concentrated juices. “When we did the market study about how to reuse all this waste, we use cold press because it was the only market where we had a chance to make it—or else it was too much of a big-player world where there was no way we could compete on price,” he says. “Cold-pressed juice was a new, upcoming thing, more niche. There are a few players, but they’re not absolutely huge, so there’s a place for fighting on the shelf.”
Côté points to an advantage that Loop has with its upcycled juices that its cold-pressed juice competitors don’t have: the lower price of upcycled ingredients. That plays out not only as a price advantage for Loop, but also in terms of the level of ingredients it’s able to use. “We have an advantage of taste because most cold-pressed juice companies out there use fillers—apples, celery, cucumbers, ingredients that cost a bit less, they can juice a lot of it, and then they add some ingredients,” he says. “As opposed to us, when we take overstock of the industry, we have mandarin, we have honeydew melon, we have pomegranate, we have fennel—we have ingredients that normally cost way more, but we pay a smaller cut on it so that we can actually achieve really interesting blends.”
The flavor profiles that Loop is able to achieve stay at their peak levels by avoiding pasteurization methods. “HPP technology is perfectly suited to enable these circular economy manufacturers to be able to make the product that is value-add and that can leverage less-than-premium-quality fruits and vegetables,” says Ramses Bermudez, marketing specialist for Hiperbaric.
While cold-pressed juice is an obvious low-hanging fruit (so to speak) for HPP, there are other less-obvious applications where HPP can be useful, Bermudez notes. Fish dips, for example, are made from the byproduct trimmed from more premium fish cuts and turned into dips, with HPP enabling a longer shelf life.
HPP has also been a key enabler of the next step in Loop’s journey, which is to use the pulp and fiber—the byproduct of its own processing—as ingredients in other products, including a pizza crust the company is developing. “Without HPP, this wouldn’t work either because the fiber—or even the spent grain from the breweries that we take for cookies—has to go through HPP to stop the bacterial growth,” Côté notes. “A raw ingredient that’s been destroyed and crushed and turned into pulp is very highly fermentable; it’s going to ferment really, really quickly. So we need to stabilize it really quickly, and HPP gives us the possibility of doing this.”
Entry into HPP
HPP machines are not the cheapest pieces of equipment, however. Until recently, Loop was using an HPP toller to get the work done. “It was very costly, of course, but without them, we wouldn’t be here,” Côté says, who adds that he never would’ve dreamed of owning his own HPP machine when they first started the company. “And now, six years later, I’m giving a little talk about our HPP machine that we just acquired and that we’re so happy with.”
Because HPP machines are often prohibitively expensive for startup companies, Hiperbaric has an incubator program that helps customers with their product development, getting them up to the minimum volumes they would need to start leveraging tollers, Bermudez says. “We have food scientists in-house who look through the recipes for each product that a manufacturer might have in mind and try to get them up to speed to the point where they can manage that and produce that product at a quantity that will help them be able to pay for the technology on their own,” he explains. “Basically, it’s like a stepping stone to anybody starting out in the industry. We help out with HPP validations through the recipes, offer them any guidance that we might see fit, depending on their product category.”
Key to Loop Mission’s plan is to help food manufacturers realize that there is money to be made by upcycling what might otherwise go to landfills.
“We don’t think we’re going to solve the food waste problem by changing every consumer,” Côté says. “To change the behavior of big food corporations, where 80% of the food waste happens, that’s where we’re going to have a tremendous amount of change and a tremendous power of changing the future. And this is how we do it—by changing those behaviors and showing them that there’s a value in those produce, or in any kind of food that they’re wasting.”