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Food and Drink

George May

George May is Managing Director at bio-bean, the world’s only industrial recycler of spent coffee grounds. As one of the original team at bio-bean George has played a key part in the growth of the company, from pre-revenue through to the launch of bio-bean’s range of innovative bio-based products, including our best-selling winter fire logs, Coffee Logs, and our coffee flavour extract for use in the beverage industry. George developed a UK supply chain that processes thousands of tonnes of spent coffee from the likes of Costa Coffee, and ultimately saves tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2e.

One business success

  • Achieved Certified B Corporation™ status in October 2020: certified B Corporations are a select group of for-profit companies using the power of business to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. B Corps are verified, through a rigorous assessment process, to have met the highest standards of “social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose”. For us, the ethos behind B Corp™ is aligned with what we are trying to achieve at bio-bean, so to become a B Corp is a fantastic recognition of the business that the team has built, as well as being a clear marker for the way in which we will operate going forward.

Two challenges for the sector

  • Legislation inhibiting innovation: there is a great deal of talk at a governmental (and other) level about supporting UK innovation, supporting small businesses to move forward and supporting the transition to a circular economy in light of the climate crisis. The reality is that, albeit not always, government moves too slowly and our model requires an agile, rapid response, which can be difficult for the government, governmental bodies and large organisations alike. We don’t fit in the already framed boxes. We didn’t exist when regulations were formed, and government often doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with us. It can be hugely frustrating; no doubt prevents others from bringing forward innovation and is an area that needs direct action to resolve.  We’ll continue to push for better dialogue, legislative support and direct engagement whilst developing the solution that we offer. Through tenacity, we, and other innovative businesses and change-makers, must continue to progress the sustainability agenda.
  • Not just a nice idea, behaviour change at scale: the idea behind what we do is so simple and tangible that people immediately ‘get it’. However, often when it then comes to implementing segregated spent coffee collections or onboarding a new product/material we are met with the ‘computer says no’ response and the idea that new and different is difficult. What this boils down to is the need for a shift in behavioural mindset. Once that has happened, the rest will fall into place – easy as that…We also regularly come up against outdated, short-term ways of thinking, such as ‘we’ve always done it this way so why should we do it that way?’ or ‘what’s in it for me?’ rather than ‘what’s best for all of us?’. This is often exacerbated in large organisations where there are numerous stakeholders with their own agendas leading to siloed thinking and processes. If we are really to address the climate crisis we’re living through then there is a need for legislation and businesses to be more proactive – walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • Rise and rise of upcycled. Upcycling is the process of transforming items that would have otherwise been discarded or wasted into a product or products of higher quality or value than the original. It is about reducing waste by using, where possible, every last bit of the resources in front of us to create high-quality, valuable products. According to Mattson, a food innovation and development firm, 95% of consumers want to do their part to reduce food waste, and in 2019 more than half (57%) of consumers were aiming to buy more food and beverages made with upcycled ingredients in the next year. Even investors are showing increasing interest in similar upcycling concepts. A report released by ReFED in late 2018 cited 125 million USD of private investment in the first 10 months of that year alone for start-ups aiming to reduce food waste. Add to all this the rapid emergence of the Upcycled Food Association’s logo on consumer goods, and you can see this trend is set to continue.
  • Greater consumer scrutiny as to provenance & sustainability of products: consumers are increasingly becoming aware of their ecological footprint, and even more so following COVID-19’s sweep across the globe. More and more, they are forming an emotional connection with sustainability, and their purchase behaviour is shifting toward ethical brands – particularly for products they bring into their homes or bodies. In fact, according to a 2020 global survey by Capgemini Research Institute, 79% of customers are changing their preferences based on the environmental impact, inclusiveness or social responsibility of their purchases. And 88% of customers want brands to help them live more sustainably. Even more significantly, consumers are willing to pay more for these products. A Nielsen study reported that 90% of Millennials (those currently aged 24-39) are willing to pay more for products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients. As the current exponential growth of the B Corp movement is demonstrating the demand for businesses to be able to demonstrate and articulate the robustness of their supply chains is fast becoming the norm – it is a must-have for consumers.
  • The desire for localised supply chains: linked with the above is something that we are seeing from within our own business both in terms of inbound and outbound supply – the realisation that a shorter, more localised supply chain offers significant benefits. If companies can source products and raw materials from within their country of operation there is the potential for far greater certainty of supply, reduced lead times, greater flexibility and significant CO2e reduction. Not to mention that consumers are demanding to know more about where their products have come from. Localised supply offers brands the ability to engage with their consumer base about the action that they’re taking to address climate and other concerns and to support UK business growth, particularly in more innovative and disruptive arenas such as ours. I of course acknowledge that this localised supply chain simply isn’t possible in all instances and that to achieve greater localised supply there is a need for investment in in-country capabilities, whether manufacturing or other, that certainly in the UK do not currently exist.

July 2021