This Company Turns 'Ugly' Produce Into Nutritious Powders

Outcast Foods reduces food waste and boosts nutrition at the same time.

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Outcast Foods Super Greens powder

Outcast Foods

Supermarkets are picky when it comes to produce aesthetics. If fruits and vegetables don't meet high standards for appearances, they cannot be sold. They're thrown out instead, which is a tragic loss of valuable nutrients and resources, particularly in a world where people struggle to meet the daily recommended intake for fruits and vegetables. 

One innovative Canadian company hopes to change this by addressing both the problem of wasted food and of inadequate nutrition. Outcast Foods is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and it partners with farmers to collect "ugly" produce straight out of the fields and turn it into powdered form. This powder is nutrient-rich and highly versatile, and can be used as a vegan protein powder or an added ingredient to a wide range of edible products.

A key part of the task of collecting unwanted fruits and vegetables is being able to chill them on the spot to trap nutrients. As explained on the website, nutrients start to dissipate as soon as a fruit or vegetable is harvested, which means that "transport time literally sucks the life out of them." By flash-chilling imperfect produce in a truck immediately after harvest, the micronutrients are preserved.

Upon arrival at the Outcast Foods processing facility, the produce is washed with vinegar, then put through a machine that dehydrates and pulverizes it. CEO and co-founder Darren Burke told Treehugger, 

"We are big on minimally processed, whole plant and upcycling. As such, there is no trimming or cutting away as that increases food loss. That said, we need to make sure our process meets or exceeds safety regulations to remove any risks for human consumption, [so] we start with a vigorous wash with an organic acid prior to being dehydrated in our upcycling process."

When asked about the facility, which is described as zero waste, Burke said, "It’s simple. Everything we bring in gets converted into a product more valuable than the original destination of the material on its way in. That is, it is UPCYCLED!" 

Outcast Foods factory
Burke (wearing black) in Outcast Foods' processing facility.

Outcast Foods

That upgraded product is a high-quality vegetal powder that is most readily used as a protein supplement, but is also added to pet food, baby food, salad dressings, ice cream, soups, and other packaged consumer goods.

When compared to other protein powders, Burke says Outcast Foods' stands out for a few reasons. "The majority of protein powders on the market are animal-based [and] the industrial production of milk and all of its byproducts requires a large carbon footprint. [Outcast's] comes from a supply chain that has far lower negative environmental consequences; when you add in the fact that we are incorporating upcycled whole plants in our product formulations, it is different in more ways than the ingredients alone."

Outcast Foods collects a variety of fruits and vegetables and is just starting to take spent grains, too. The most common ingredients are leafy greens like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, followed by carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, and other seasonal fruits. The company does not limit itself to organic misfit produce because, as it says on the website, "Think about all the great fruits and vegetables that would go to the landfill! The answer is no. Do it for the planet!"

The finished powder flavors look delectable – at least, as delectable as protein powders go. Lemon meringue pie, fruit explosion, and pineapple coconut sound considerably more appetizing than the usual chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter options in the protein section of the grocery store, and it's nice to know that they're jam-packed with additional produce.

Outcast Foods Fruit Explosion

Outcast Foods

Outcast Foods is on to something great that resolves several food-related dilemmas at the same time. The company is growing quickly, partnering with major Canadian retailers like Sportcheck, Sobey's, and to market its powders directly to consumers, and with food processing companies like Happy Planet Foods, Greenhouse Juice Co., Earth Animal, v-dog, and Nestlé to incorporate its powders into food products.

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