Sustainable Foods Summit Focuses on Sustainability and Upcycling – WholeFoods Magazine


Sheldon Baker is the Chief Executive Officer and team leader at Baker Dillon Group. With more than 30 years of creative management experience, Sheldon has developed and directed a wide range of corporate marketing programs, celebrity promotion and product branding. 

The Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco the last week of January focused on developments with upcycled foods and emerging sustainability programs in the food industry, while also exploring new horizons.

Transitioning to the Circular Economy

There is a growing call for manufacturers in the food industry to start making a transition to the circular economy. Producers are encouraged to look at sustainable agriculture and/or production methods that lower impacts. Brands are encouraged to close their packaging loops by looking at green materials in an effort to introduce new packaging formats. Many food and beverage companies are focusing on raw materials to reduce their impact. Precision fermentation is increasingly used to create sustainable offerings such as animal-free products and cultured foods. Although the technology brings many benefits, there are questions about potential downsides. 

One early upcycled food adapter is Upcycled Foods, Inc. Taking surplus grain from homebrewed beer inspired the company founders to create flavorful, nutritious bread. Ultimately, the company began collecting the grain from craft breweries and created ReGrained SuperGrain+, a patented technology that was a first-of-its-kind upcycled food ingredient with an abundance of fiber, protein, and functional food benefits.  

Many food and ingredient companies are looking at upcycling as part of their sustainability strategies, noted Dan Kurzrock, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Upcycled Foods, and the Summit reinforced the urgent need for collaborative efforts across the entire value chain and different sectors. “Despite headwinds such as inflationary pressures, we remain optimistic and eager to propel the industry from awareness into action,” said Kurzrock.

As for the Summit, Kurzrock said, “I found it to provide inspiration in the industry-wide commitment to improving food systems, from upstream solutions like regenerative agriculture to downstream innovations like our own. We’re proud to help enable the industry to transition to circularity, acknowledging the heartening progress made while recognizing the challenges that lie ahead.”

Focus on Regenerative Farming

Higher costs are often cited as one of the barriers for producers to adopt regenerative farming practices. But Gero Leson, Vice President of Operations for Dr. Bronner’s, as well as a Summit presenter who spoke to the increasing economic value of regenerative agriculture, felt the presentations by a broad range of small-to-large companies confirmed that sustainability is in, and industry and service providers are taking steps along their supply chains, most of which goes beyond talk and greenwashing. 

“The conference confirmed awareness of pending regulatory measures that will require and enforce that there’s action, not just words,” Leson shared. “I was particularly inspired by the broad interest in going regenerative even though there are different schools of thought on what that means.”

Conference attendee Giovanni Cavaletto, USA Chief Executive Officer for GLC Cerritos, a premium sustainable grower, packer and shipper of fresh Haas avocados from Mexico, shared his thoughts about the conference: “My biggest takeaway is a phrase from the opening presentation, ‘There is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot.’ Although this phrase may be a bit graphic, I believe that it describes the theme of the summit.

One of Cavaletto’s goals at the show was to learn more about commercial avenues where the GLC Cerritos’ global G.A.P. farm audits, Rainforest Alliance Certification, and Fair-Trade participation might differentiate the brand from the competition. “I came away with greater knowledge about regenerative, organic, upcycling, aquaculture, and wildlife preservation,” Cavaletto said. “Each of these efforts has made a difference in building a more sustainable food distribution industry. Becoming more efficient is a key part of any business, including farming and the food industry. Having passed $12B in annual sales, the avocado industry can make great strides in improving productivity.”