#agoodcommunity stayed up a little late, but it was well worth it, to chat to sustainable food entrepreneur, Dan Kurzrock.
Dan is in an enviable position in that he successfully turned something he loves into a business that helps save the planet. His company, ReGrained, upcycles the leftovers from beer brewing into a tasty, nutritious ingredient that can be used in a wide variety of snacks and dishes.
We discuss his journey so far and how this was shaped by his experiences growing up in his native state, sunny California. Tuck in!
AGC: Hi Dan, welcome to A Good Community. There’s a really cool story behind about how you got started with ReGrained.
DK: Thanks! Yes, it’s actually something that my co-founder and I stumbled into as underage home brewers. As you know, in the States you go to college as an 18-year-old but the drinking age is 21. So I learned how to make my own beer, and was blown away by how much grain it took to make every batch and how much of it is wasted. So with ReGrained, our initial commercial focus is the brewing industry and the byproducts from the brewing industry, specifically the malt.
AGC: For those of us who aren’t home brewers, what is malt?
DK: Malt is sprouted barley, it's an ancient grain. Beer makers only need it for the sugar. But grain also has protein, fibre and other nutritional value that doesn’t make it into the beer.
AGC: And this is what you use?
DK: Yes, exactly. What we've done is develop a technology to process the byproduct from brewing into a human food ingredient called Supergrain+ that contains all this nutritional value. You can think of it as an alternative flour. It's a powder that can be used in all kinds of applications, from snacks to baked goods to ice cream.
Smoked Sea Salt and Pepper flavoured snacks. Yum!
We started with a line of nutrition bars and are now more focused on chips, or crisps for you Europeans. We’re also working with global food companies that sell packaged goods, as well as restaurants all over the world to help them develop upcycled products using our ingredients.
"A six-pack of beer takes 330 gallons of water to produce. And then to just use that only for the sugars? We could be putting these resources to best use, feeding people, by upcycling them."
AGC: We love the picture of you guys back in your college kitchen where you’re holding the initial prototypes!
DK: Yeah! And it's turned out that the potential is massive. In the US alone there’s about 20 billion pounds of grain available—it's roughly one pound for every six-pack of beer. Right now, most of it is going to animal feed or lower uses. What we're proposing is putting the food to its highest use and that’s feeding people. So this is plant-based nutrition that's got great flavour and great functional properties. It's a way to create tasty products that are better for people and better for the planet.
Dan and co-founder Jordan hard at work in the kitchen
AGC: How big of a problem is food waste in the US and globally?
DK: Food waste is a huge problem. One-third of all food that's grown in the world is wasted, and that does not really capture manufacturers' byproducts because most of those aren't considered waste. If food goes to landfill it breaks down into methane which is, as you know, 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. There are also a lot of resources that go into producing food that are wasted. For example, a six-pack of beer takes 330 gallons of water to produce. And then to just use that only for the sugars? We could be putting these resources to best use, feeding people, by upcycling them.
AGC: It’s a great idea. You’re a California native right?
DK: I was born and raised in Northern California.
AGC: Slightly jealous! California has a reputation as being a hotbed for innovation. Do you think growing up there primed you for starting ReGrained?
"A lot of people get really caught up in this fear of failure. They want to create the perfect plan, and then they fail to take action on their ideas and never get going in the first place."
DK: Yeah, and in a few ways for sure. One is on the environmental side of things that, looking back, I took for granted. Growing up we had a camp, we had a compost pile, and a backyard and a vegetable garden and robust recycling. My grandfather, he'd always reuse everything. There's this environmental ethos that is implicit here, or at least it was for me.
Then, on the startup side of things, my peers, my friends and their parents were either founding companies or working for startup companies. And I think what's really important in that, too, is that not all of those companies were successful. I've got some friends who worked for company after company that have failed. So there's also less of a fear of failure, I guess, when you're exposed to the fact that not every idea is going to be successful and that that’s okay. A lot of people get really caught up in this fear of failure. They want to create the perfect plan, and then they fail to take action on their ideas and never get going in the first place. There's less of that obsession with not failing and more of a value placed on innovating, which is putting creativity in action and actually doing something and adjusting.
AGC: Sounds like a winning recipe.
DK: On the other hand, California is also very expensive. That’s a big downside, especially for food manufacturing which is a lower-margin business. I also like to recognise as publicly as I can how much privilege comes into this. Even within California, there's not equal access to the types of opportunities that I was privy to, for example the networks that I was able to develop as a result of certain socioeconomic factors. So I feel very fortunate and privileged in that respect.
A slice of California coastline
AGC: If you could go back and give your younger self some advice. What would it be?
DK: That’s hard. Hindsight is 20:20, right? I think we were trying to do too much too early. For example, we lost almost a million dollars US on innovations with compostable packaging. We pioneered a compostable film because we want to contribute to a waste-free world that includes no reliance on single-use plastic and getting petroleum out of the supply chain. But, our core business model is around fighting food waste and we need to make sure that we are laser-focused on being successful with that.
However, I don't think my younger self would listen to my future self, even if I had gone back and said “focus on what's most important now, build a viable business that you know is fighting food waste and tackle packaging later. You're not a packaging company.”
Also, if I were to start another company someday, I'd probably raise a lot more money early on, because things always take more money than you think they will. Most good ideas fail because they run out of money, so making sure early on that you have more capital is something to think about.
AGC: You’re also a B Corp, how did you find that process?
DK: Rigorous, but totally meaningful and worthwhile.
AGC: Same! And what’s next for ReGrained?
DK: In this next phase, we are focused on growing our ingredient partnerships. As an ingredient and development partner, we upcycle at scale by actively collaborating with many of the brands you know and love. We would list them but attorneys insist on strict NDAs while in development. Suffice it to say that soon many of your favourite brands will be “Powered by ReGrained” and available wherever you shop. Picture everything from global snack brands, to fast casual restaurant chains to major retailer private label programs.
AGC: Lastly, who else do you think we should interview for A Good Community?
DK: How about the CEO of the Upcycled Food Association, Turner Wyatt? We founded the organisation together with a handful of other brands, and I think both you and your audience would really dig his story and perspective.
AGC: Thanks Dan, looking forward to eating more ReGrained in the near future!
We hope you found this enjoyable and informative. Do you have a similar story to tell, know someone who does? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.