It’s easy to get swept up in the news and activities of the industry’s global titans, but what about the smaller firms that are out there flexing their creative muscles? In FoodBev’s very first instalment of ‘Start-up of the month’ – which celebrates the lesser-known companies and their innovations – we speak to Fergus Moore, co-founder of Revive Eco, a Scottish start-up developing green solutions to the global food waste challenge. Read the full interview below.
To begin, could you introduce Revive and outline its core objectives?
Revive is developing green technologies to create high-value products from previously low-value waste materials, exploiting a huge opportunity and disrupting global industries. Our first focus is on used coffee grounds. We have developed a patent-pending technology that converts previously unused material into high-value chemicals and consumer products using a novel, green and scalable adaptation of an industrially-proven process.
Firstly, we extract a coffee oil that has uses in a wide variety of industries including food and beverage, skincare, household products and pharmaceuticals. We then use this coffee oil as a base to create additional ingredients also used in these industries. Industries like food and drink and skincare rely too heavily on virgin materials like palm oil, which come with huge environmental issues, including mass deforestation. We can provide them with a sustainable, locally sourced alternative, improving their environmental footprint and allowing them to meet consumer demand.
What led to the start-up’s establishment?
My co-founder Scott and I were studying business at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. As part of a class project, we were tasked with coming up with a business concept that had either an environmental or social element to it. At the same time, we both worked in the hospitality sector so we were seeing first-hand the amount of food waste that was being created every day.
We focused on used coffee grounds and after presenting to our class and lecturers we were chosen to represent the university at a start-up competition in Texas, US. Up until this point, it had very much just been coursework. However, on the flight home after having won an award and some funding for the business, we decided that this was what we wanted to do. And the week we graduated, we set up Revive.
A huge congratulations! So, just how is Revive combatting the food waste crisis?
The UK consumes more than 95 million cups of coffee every single day. This leads to more than 500,000 metric tonnes of used coffee grounds being produced in the UK every year, with the vast majority going to landfill or being incinerated. This costs the coffee industry >£80m annually in waste disposal costs. This material still holds a huge amount of value, which is currently being lost.
By collecting the used coffee grounds, we not only avoid the huge volumes of carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia from being released into the atmosphere, but we also maximise the lifetime value extracted from them.
What are the main applications of Revive’s coffee-derived alternative?
Our main focus until now has been on the skincare market as they are crying out for more sustainable and ethically sourced ingredients like ours. Due to our scale, this industry is also more applicable from a cost perspective as they are used to working with low-volume, high-value ingredients.
We are now exploring the F&B industry as this is where we see our true scale coming from. However, we are in a bit of a chicken and egg position right now in that we are not large enough to take advantage of the economies of scale required to meet the price point expected in the F&B industry, but we need to enter the F&B industry to reach that scale. Therefore, we’re currently looking for an F&B partner that is willing to work with us while we scale with them, obviously benefiting from being the first to market with our new sustainable ingredients.
Well, the reason we chose coffee was simple, we worked in hospitality and knew how much of this material was going to waste. However, since then we’ve discovered how valuable and beneficial it can be. It’s rich in a number of fatty acids, tocopherols, polyphenols and diterpenes that offer great skincare benefits. The caffeine content also can stimulate blood circulation, reducing puffiness and brightening dark circles. Coffee is already considered a superfood, we want to help make this great product that gets everyone up and going in the morning and make it the first truly sustainable commodity on the planet.
Could you tell us more about your palm oil solution? What are the main benefits and how will this impact the F&B industry?
We are not looking to compete directly with crude palm oil. Coffee oil has far more skin and nutritional benefits than palm oil does, so to compete with it directly would in fact detract from the value we are bringing to our customers and their products. However, palm oil is used as a base for a huge number of ingredients like surfactants and emulsifiers and currently, there are little to no alternatives on the market that are sustainable and ethical.
While you may look at the ingredient list of a product and not see ‘palm oil,’ it is likely that there will be multiple ingredients derived from palm oil that (unless you’re a chemist) you would never know their association with palm. We can compete directly with these as we have developed further processes to convert our coffee oil into comparable ingredients, without the associated environmental impact that comes with using palm oil derivatives.
To date, how much material has been saved from landfill or incineration through Revive’s activities?
Pre-pandemic, we were collecting over 2.5 tonnes of used coffee grounds per week from across Scotland to be recycled either to create oils or to be sent for composting. However, we’re now focusing on only collecting the grounds we need for our process right now from a small number of partners. We have diverted well in excess of 100 tonnes from landfill over the course of our history, the equivalent of about 5 million lattes.
What’s next for Revive? Any exciting plans in the pipeline?
Right now, we are scaling up our processing capabilities with third-party chemical manufacturers. Our process has been proven at a large lab scale, but to truly take advantage of the demand we are seeing, we need to be at a more industrial scale.
Long-term, we plan on taking what we learn from working with these chemical manufacturers and licensing our IP and know-how to companies internationally. We want to avoid shipping our coffee-derived ingredients around the world so licensing will allow us to grow our impact to an international scale without the capital expenditure of building coffee recycling facilities all over the globe. We are constantly on the lookout for potential licensing partners so would encourage any companies that are interested in utilising our circular solution in their country to get in touch.
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