Could Upcycled Foods Help Balance the Global Wheat Crisis?

You don't need to analyze your grocery store receipts too closely right now to see that food prices are skyrocketing, with wheat being no exception. Wheat products make up many of the staples we know and love - think bread, pasta, and crackers. If we don't want to give these up, it may be time to make use of some upcycled foods to help stabilize wheat prices.

Why are wheat prices spiking?

Commodity wheat prices have been increasing in response to various forces, including inflation, low domestic supply, and one of the unsung consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war. Usually, these two countries provide 29% of global wheat exports and 14% of global wheat supply. However, until the war ends (which we all of course hope it will soon), exports are expected to remain at a standstill. 

The issue is complex, but the fact is that on March 5, 2022, American wheat prices hit a record high at $13 a bushel (translating to about 21 cents per pound), up 60% from one year ago. Wholesale wheat flour prices have also increased. Unfortunately, this issue has no end in sight – the USDA anticipates an additional 21-24% increase for wholesale wheat flour through the remainder of 2022. 

In the meantime, it is crucial to consider the bigger picture. One angle that is intellectually interesting to consider is whether upcycled alternatives could replace some of the wheat.

Upcycled foods: what are they and how could they help?

Upcycled foods take ingredients that would not have not gone to human consumption and give them new life and function. At scale, this could yield more food supply without using additional resources – potentially translating to greater stability and price resiliency. 

Upcycled ingredients are often currently sold at a moderate premium. ReGrained’s SuperGrain+Ⓡ , for example, is made from brewer’s spent grain and can be used in many of wheat-based products we know and love. This is currently more expensive than wheat flour, but is also more nutritious and boasts higher rates of fiber and protein.

In 2021, many companies had to increase their costs to customers due to limited resources. However, since upcycled foods did not experience the same supply shortages, ReGrained was able to present customers with savings. This could be the beginning of a revolution- at greater degrees of production and distribution, economies of scale could continue to drive these prices down.

Looking back to leap forward

This is not the first time a global crisis has highlighted the need for sustainable alternatives. For instance, take renewable energy. This has the ability to improve resources and eco-efficiency, lower greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints, and reduce reliance on fossil resources. While these weren’t initially in demand, as they have been introduced at greater scales, prices have been driven down, and consumer demand is growing considerably.

It isn't farfetched to suggest that upcycled foods could be the next example of this phenomenon. Current research shows that consumers both will and want to pay for more climate-friendly food products, both for the planet and their own health. At scale, doing more with less should become accessible to all. 

So, do upcycled foods have the potential to balance the global wheat crisis? Only time will tell, but we sure hope to play a role in the solution. 

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