One of the first cultivated grains of the Fertile Crescent, barley has been used for millennia in foods and beverages, from breads and animal feed to malt and beer. Today, while it is one of the most common grains cultivated globally, it doesn’t have the same high profile in the food ingredients space as others, a challenge that EverGrain is now tackling. Officially introduced in 2020 after a multi-year investment by AB InBev, EverGrain is looking at new ways to create unique plant-based ingredients from barley, with a commitment to sustainability through upcycling. In this podcast, Jacqueline Hochreiter, global director of strategy and sustainability with EverGrain, delves into the organization’s path to market, including the entrepreneurial spirit of the founding team and their desire to make barley ‘cool’ again.
Tune in to hear more about:
- Defining ‘upcycling’ and its ability to shape a more sustainable future for the food and nutraceutical industry.
- Why an investment in not only technology but intellectual property is important to secure the future of unique functional ingredients.
- Insights on the development of new proteins and fibres with both consumer appeal and formulation benefits.
- New opportunities for brands to extend their reach in the space.
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Vitafoods Insights 00:06
Welcome to the Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series podcast. From responsible sourcing to supply chain logistics, this dedicated podcast addresses some of the industry's greatest challenges and champions the stories of sustainability success. Today's host is Heather Granato, Vice President of content.
While barley has been around for millennia and is one of the most common grains cultivated globally, it doesn't necessarily have the same place in the pantry as wheat or rice. In fact, it's generally seen more as an animal feed ingredient or a critical part of the beer brewing process. Fortunately, given the rising interest among consumers in plant-based nutrition, and among CPG brands in sustainable ingredients, times are changing for barley. Several years ago, AB InBev looked at ways to meet its sustainability goals and deliver greater value across its operation and empowered entrepreneurial team took on the business and tech challenge to deliver a unique value proposition. EverGrain officially launched in 2020 and has been extending its reach with new barley-based ingredients for formulators worldwide. To learn more about this unique initiative launched by a global beverage leader, I chatted with Jacqueline Hochreiter, EverGrain's global director of strategy and sustainability. We started by talking about the founding of EverGrain.
EverGrain is a company that exists to realise the potential in barley. Barley is a grain, it's one of the largest greens, grown by crop volume in the world. But its predominant use is actually for beer or for animal feed. A group of real passionate people about five, six years ago at AB InBev, which is the world's largest Brewing Company, put their heads together and thought about the sustainability opportunity there. You know, you've got this whole, really nutritious, really good grain, that you're putting into the process. And then at the end of it, you're taking a bunch of that nutrition and you're just simply throwing it away or repurposing it for animal feed. What these people really thought was there must be a different purpose for this, you know, how can we actually look at the full potential, how can we realise the potential? So that mission really started five, six years ago. That group at the time included co-founder and CEO Gregory Belt, he is still CEO today, and many friends, that passionate kind of interested parties, curious parties who helped us. University of Cork was a big proponent in getting a bunch of the research and technical side of it sorted out at the beginning. People within our own AB InBev business, what we call our G-Tech, our global innovation technology centre out of Belgium. And through that extensive R&D process, we essentially got to a point where we had this pretty unique plant-based protein. So that leads me to what we're essentially trying to do today, as EverGrain, is to accelerate the plant-based movement through high quality, nutritional and functional ingredients, which I can tell you a little bit more about as we go through the discussion.
Wonderful. You mentioned tech a couple of times there. Why was it critical for EverGrain's team to spend time, not only developing these technologies that will produce and yield these plant-based ingredients, but also to have a really strong IP position?
Yeah, great question, Heather. So, I think the ingredients business is not so different from other real market pursuits, you know, there's a lot of new things that could come up. There's new trends, new insights, new science, that kind of guides people to want new or interesting ingredients for the things they consume every day: food and beverages in their homes and in their lives. And it's a business that doesn't just come for free, you know, there's capital, there's real market goods, movements that need to happen to make those ingredients come to life. And if EverGrain itself were to do all this effort, I mean, we talked about starting five, six years ago, the company only formally exists for the last two years. So, the difference there is really that the R&D, the innovation process, and imagine we put all that effort and all that money in all those people's time and then we didn't protect it, somebody else came along and just copied as, you know, similar feedstock whatever. And they were able to get to that outcome, there'd be a real mismatch and sort of disincentive for innovation. So, IP is, there's high barriers to entry, it's not as important as tech in that sense, but it is important in the sense of you want to protect what you created, and you want to incentivize your team to continue along that path, to continue to improve what you have. And that's really at the heart of EverGrain, you know, in terms of realising that potential, we don't just do sort of our 1.0 product, we have the 2.0 in the process of design and delivery. We've got 3.0 on the pipeline for 2023 onward delivery. And that's really exciting, and let's say supported by the fact that we have good IP possessions in the dozens across Europe and the US.
Obviously, the natural products industry has seen that challenge in IP for a long while, so I don't think what you're saying is going to be terribly unusual to some of our listeners. As we're looking at the consumer side of things, though, consumers might not be terribly familiar with barley maybe beyond knowing that it is the ingredient in their beer. So how are you looking to increase consumer awareness and make this healthy food a little cool?
Actually, I wanted to share some insights with you, Heather. So, we've done a category segmentation, if you will, in terms of some of the application areas that we, as an ingredient company, can go into. These range from food, beverage, supplements, or you know, form of supplements, which is the ready to drink protein shakes, or protein powders. And essentially, we've looked at different types of consumers across a global representative spectrum. And we've noticed that about 30% of the general population 29%, this is UK and US data, are interested in putting sustainability at the forefront of their decision making. So, within this group of people, of course, you know, something we haven't yet talked about, but perhaps we'll get to at the end, you know, EverGrain is essentially one of the world's most sustainable sources of protein and fibre, as a result of our taking, the barley spent grains, or what we called the Golden remains. And realising just with a little extra energy water, we can have a new ingredient in market, whereas other ingredients are taking all that intensity and resource use, non-juice from the field through you know, early-stage processing, transport, logistics, etc. So, we've got that natural advantage on sustainability. And we really sit squarely in the minds of consumers as a sustainable protein or fibre. So, within this consumer category, you might be surprised to learn that a majority of people about 80% plus actually are aware of barley as an ingredient, and more so would like to try it in their new foods or beverages. This could be plant-based milk, this could be protein bars, breads, bakery, they welcome it, which was something that we were surprised by because as you say, it's not a regular grain that people would seek out, you know that people are aware, it's an ancient grain, it's been around for a while. So, we see that, for example, in plant-based milk, we have about 64% of those people thinking that barley is a good idea because it's healthy. 61% of people agreed that it's a good idea, because it's nutritious. And they go on to talk about hybrid protein and fibre, the fact that it's a good alternative to soy-based ingredients or pea-based ingredients, the broader plant-based community. We're talking alternative here, not complete replacement, you know, something to introduce as new variety to, you know, a vegan or plant-based diet. So, I think on that basis, we understand that this is a kind of a niche, you know, these are people who are actively looking for new and interesting ingredients. They're health conscious, they're generally college educated, a little bit more disposable income to spend on new and interesting categories. But they also shop around and they're kind of butterflies in terms of new things coming and going. What we'd like to do is ingrain ourselves, if you will, in sort of key consumer occasions through diversifying our portfolio, right. So, imagine a consumer who wakes up in the morning, who's open to barley as a category, who throws in somebody's milk to their cereal, you know, and then they rush off to work, they grab a cereal bar, snack bar that has barley in it, then they head over to lunch, you know, for a break, and they grab a plant-based burger or meatball that has kind of a combination barley pea soy as a texturize plant protein. And as they go through their day, they see barley, they touch barley as an ingredient, versatile and nutritious, healthy ingredient, and that reinforces, you know, their idea. So, there's the product side of things where we want to make sure that barley is present in these health-forward, health-conscious consumer applications. And then there's the marketing or the communications side of it. So, who in the world knows the most about the ingredient barley? that could be us. Nobody today, other than large brewing companies and couple people were in cuddle, know really a lot about the value of barley. So, we want to become that voice, that place where people come to learn about barley, to understand every phytonutrient, every mineral, vitamin that is inside that grain of barley; that people can also be secure in the science behind it. And then the third part, of course, is you mentioned it the cool factor. You don't just have to be there. You don't just have to show up in it, you know, scientifically valid way but cool factor for us and something that we're working through. There's a great case study which our colleagues in Argentina have just done, where they leveraged culinary influences, they created a pearled barley product in a very neutral kind of sustainable packaging and they sold it direct to consumer as well as on shelf and retail, just making it available. You know, people don't see it in the shop next to the quinoa and the pharaohs. They've got to see it there to believe it. And then sort of culinary influences either ones who can start using it, incorporating it into recipes at different times of day, sharing that on Instagram and different channels where people really pick up these sorts of trends going forward.
That familiarity, absolutely, so important as consumers are looking for these alternatives. So, there are different EverGrain ingredients, proteins and fibres, I think is in the 1.2 2.0. So, how does that align with current consumer desires around nutrition and health?
This is more general population based, you know, people conscious of protein in a much bigger way than they're conscious of fibre. But more and more, and this is probably also not new, you know, fibre has been up and coming for a little while now. The people are aware that fibre is something that is integral to the health of their digestive system. What's unfortunate, this is a piece of information that comes from the UK, 20% of people get the daily recommended allowance of fibre, consistently, but 80% of people think that they get the daily recommended allowance of fibre. So, there's this disconnect in terms of okay, what am I eating? I think it's got fibre in it, but it actually doesn't, you know, it's been stripped of its nutrients, it's been over processed. So, this trend towards natural ingredients, and the fact that you can have a situation where you think a grain has something in it when it doesn't, almost needs to be reversed. And what we have an EverGrain is kind of a super whole grain, if you just follow me on this thought experiment, that the definition of a whole grain is that it must have equal proportion of endosperm germ and whole in its finish or sort of consumer facing nature. And what a lot of processed foods do is they take out that good part of the grain, and that's no longer a whole grain. Good luck getting your fibre from that source. Wherever grain is, is actually reduction on the endosperm, which is the carb intense portion that carbohydrate goes to the beer, obviously, the beer needs the starch to ferment into alcohol. And what we're left with are the two so called good parts of the whole grain, the super grain, if you will. And this is the exciting part for us, is how do we make sure that even if we're fortifying, we're getting part of that whole grain that is good for you back into the food system, that we're getting it there in a way that is also kind of helped by stealth, we call it by that way because it's essentially neutral in taste ingredients. They don't have this kind of gritty or texture kind of impact. They support mouthfeel in beverage application. So, we're not kind of standing out. But we're allowing people to enjoy the products that they always enjoyed but giving them that boost of fibre that they don't know that they need, as well as that boost of protein that they know that they need and they're actively searching for. So just to be concrete, other than sort of natural ingredients made with ingredients that are understand sort of that clean label trend, we see protein and fibre generally coming as numbers two to four in our consumer insights today,
you mentioned a couple of things there that align with this idea of formulation benefits. In fact, when you're looking at different applications, whether that's beverages or food products, what are some of those formulation benefits that you gain from using these unique ingredients?
Great question, Heather. Thank you, the portfolio is small today, but we do hope to grow. We've got two products which are market ready. And in fact, the one is launching as we speak in the USA, that's our EverPro our protein isolate 85% pure protein PDCAS of 0.7 for those who follow the protein digestibility score. And it goes great in combination with either a healthy diet or a legume-based source of protein. But from a formulation side, it's very unique. A lot of scientists have commented on the solubility. So, what that means is imagine you just throw some of that powder in a glass of water and you start up, it looks like a kind of a clean tea blend, if you will, like there's nothing left in there. It's all 100% or 97% solubilized. This coffee, also very, very low. So that also means that you don't kind of get in the way of other things that are in the beverage, you just sort of slip in there and you find your way and in terms of where you sit in that beverage over time. So, the formulation benefits from the beverage perspective, talking about plant-based milks, talking about nutrition shakes, even ready to drink teas or coffees, kombuchas, I mean, these are sort of a little bit further out, but areas where from a functional perspective and a formulation perspective, we do have a benefit. EverVita is our fibre and protein combination range, so we have EverVITA Prima, higher on the protein side and mid-range on the fibre side; and then we have EverVITA Fibra which is pretty high on the fibre side, 61% fibre in the ingredient. And what these two do is pretty interesting in terms of a satiety effect. It's not necessarily formulation benefits, but for human health impact, it's quite important that you're getting that feeling of fullness, especially for these more indulgent food categories, like bread or pasta. And at the same time, from a formulation perspective, they support the original texture, if you will. Sometimes it's a little different, you know, for the past, it might be a little bit more gooey, but it's great al dente texture, even sometimes better, according to the consumer tests that we've done versus a base semolina pasta. People actually like it, you can't overcook it like, you leave it on the pan for 20 minutes and you just get this perfect al dente pasta, that's extremely unusual in the pasta world. And the bread, you know, it provides this sort of elasticity and a little bit of puffiness, if you will, that keeps the texture and the airiness of a bread, which is quite distinct from whole wheat and other people know rye bread. When you think of a rye bread, it's very stodgy, it's quite tough to chew on. That's kind of the opposite of what we bring in our ingredients.
Exciting stuff. You also referred earlier to a little bit of the sustainability stories. So, let's talk about upcycling. This kind of term of upcycled food refers to products that use ingredients that would otherwise not have gone to human consumption, that might be procured and produced using verifiable supply chains and have this positive impact on the environment. How does EverGrain's business align with this concept of upcycling? And how can this contribute to a more sustainable future for our industry?
Yeah, so upcycling is a term that people are starting to understand or become familiar with more and more. At EverGrain, we're actually a certified upcycled ingredient. So that's great. We're actually really proud of that. We just got upcycled, certified couple weeks ago. And we're getting ourselves organised to share that with different distributor networks and customers. But what that means, Heather, is exactly what you've explained. We have an ingredient that would otherwise have been a waste stream. That we stream has a carbon impact, right. So, first of all, we're actually removing that carbon impact, as well as taking advantage of the fact that we have almost no supply chain to speak of, lowering that relative carbon footprint for the ingredient itself. And coming out with one of the best in class, greenhouse gas, land use and water use footprints of any ingredient today, at scale. The scale part is important because if this is not scalable, in terms of a sustainable alternative, it's always going to be sort of the niche, the pure, but it's not going to change anything in terms of the food systems impact, which is responsible today for about a quarter of global gas impact. And for us, the step change, I think, for upcycled ingredients has just been in maybe the last year or two, where, previously, there was a perception that it should be traded at a discount. You know, you're taking something really low cost based on the raw materials, you're polishing it a little bit, and then you're selling it to us as a food source. But that is incorrect. That assumption is incorrect. There's a lot that needs to be done. And the premise of the fact that it was waste to start proves that out, right. If you're a waste product, you're literally a waste product, because you are no value to anybody. So, to take that product, and to create value is an expensive exercise, it takes ingenuity, it takes effort, you know, resources, thinking differently. And you take that ingredient, you put it next to other conventional sources of protein, and you still have a cost advantage, or at least a competitive price point. So that's where it starts to make sense. You know, there are other upcycle ingredients that do trade at a premium for the reason that I just mentioned prior. But because of our scale, we're actually able to compete with other conventional grown plant proteins. And that helps us to actually find a way into the market in a meaningful way for us to actually sustain the business and make this not niche. So upcycled is certainly something that we really want to share, we really want to be ensuring that people understand both the technical side as is interesting to them, obviously, as well as the fact that they shouldn't have to think about it. You know, taste should be great, function should be awesome, price should be competitive. And that's when you start to see companies picking this up. So, we've got two large consumer goods' food companies, food manufacturers that have recently reached out to us to be involved in an innovation pipeline project, whereby the mandate is or the call to be involved is: you got to be an upcycled ingredient. And when consumer goods' companies start picking that up, that's when you see the whole food system moving forward.
I think you're right, that'll be the sea change that we're looking forward around sustainability and our future. Well, Jacqueline, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm going to watch closely how EverGrain evolves and the future of upcycled ingredients. There's so much opportunity for us to really make a tangible difference.
Yeah, thanks Heather, it's been great to talk to you and looking forward to following along.
Wonderful. To our listening audience, we do invite you to check the shownotes for more information on EverGrain and upcycling, and please do subscribe to our podcast.
Vitafoods Insights 20:13
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