Waste Hater Dan Kurzrock Details the ReGrained Story
Welcome to Waste Hater Profiles -- the first in a series where we interview friends in the industry doing interesting and awesome work to reduce all kinds of waste, food or otherwise. We spoke to the Founder and CEO of ReGrained, Dan Kurzrock, about how the seeds of the business were sewn during his days as an underaged home brewer in college.
For those of you who haven’t seen their products being sold just about everywhere on the West Coast, ReGrained uses spent grain from the beer brewing process to create their SuperGrain+ flour, and in turn their granola bars. What started as some recreational entrepreneurship to support co-founders Dan and Jordan’s beer-brewing hobby, turned into the beginnings of ReGrained once they realized how much grain was leftover every time they finished a new five-gallon batch. They didn’t want to create massive waste in the pursuit of fun.
The first step the duo took while still in college was to use the spent grain to bake loaves of bread that they then sold to support their brewing. They soon realized that all that surplus held infinite potential and possibilities. If their small operation produced this much waste, obviously commercial breweries had even more to offer. At the first farmers market where Dan and Jordan sold their granola bars, they ran out of their product incredibly quickly, solidifying for them that they needed to scale up and find breweries they could work with to divert their waste into marketable and tasty products.
The rise of Dan and Jordan’s interest in taking on higher quantities of spent grain from other sources happily coincided with the hyper rise of small craft breweries, which became the team’s primary target for partners. In the early days of their client acquisition process, as is true for a lot of companies, the criteria was pretty open. It’s a fact of the brewing process that there will be spent grain leftover; Dan and Jordan set out to find the ones who were game to do something with it. As Dan explained to us, the ideal partner for ReGrained makes packaged beer, as that lends supply chain consistency. Two of their more recognizable Bay Area clients are Fort Point Brewing and Standard Deviant. Dan explained that at a rate of about a pound per six-pack, even small breweries generate millions of pounds of spent grain a year...if we were able to harness all of the estimated byproduct from every brewery in the United States (20 billion pounds!), we would have enough to bake 34 loaves of bread for every American.
This is a wonderfully illustrative example of how much surplus exists out in the world that gets treated like waste. According to the FAO, around 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year. In an industrialized country like the US, this amounts to about $680 billion worth of food. All of this surplus just needs somewhere to go or someone to turn it into something else. This extends beyond food - all of the medals for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will be made out of recycled electronics. There is so much we can accomplish and people we can feed, emissions we can divert, labor and resources that we can honor, when we create a use for something that already exists.
When it comes to productive upcycling in food, ReGrained is leading the charge. On top of the very core of their business model of upcycling, ReGrained has also put a lot of their focus and energy onto the issue of packaging waste. Granola bars are small, well-built snacks or light breakfasts, but it’s sort of dizzying to imagine that every granola bar someone eats - whether they are ReGrained or not - leads to a wrapper in the trash. In the early days of the company, ReGrained realized the hypocrisy of having a business dedicated to reducing food waste, end up generating so much trash. As Dan made clear, they know that every decision they make as a company matters. Every choice (that we all make every day) creates impact and has repercussions that follow; our movements reverberate. Though it hasn’t always been simple, ReGrained has taken this adage very seriously and when they first went to market, their packaging was compostable. As their distribution grew, this kind of packaging didn’t protect their product the way they needed it to, leading the company to the decision to return temporarily to industry-standard packaging. ReGrained has clearly been working hard at this issue. They plan to have their products back in compostable packaging by the beginning of 2020 and for that packaging to be open-source, meaning it will be accessible for any company to create and use the packaging for themselves as well.
Start ups go through numerous iterations and shifts as they grow; one thing that can be said about ReGrained is that their values have not shifted. They maintain a commitment to innovation and to the elimination of waste as widely as possible. Stay tuned for exciting new things coming from them - as Dan explained to us, for them their granola bars are really just a proof of concept, showcasing that what so many breweries have been throwing away for so long can be used to make a viable product as opposed to being trashed. They are currently working towards the launch of a pasta and chips made using their SuperGrain+.