Upcycled Grain Project snacks reduce impact on planet

2 people standing next to their product, the Upcycled Grain Project.

Jan Meyer and husband Russell Coventry standing next to their products, the Upcycled Grain Project.

Upcycled Grain Project is one of the first Kiwi producers to use upcycling in a range of products sold nationwide. Already named as one of the world’s top 50 healthy snacks, the sustainably delicious crackers and grain crisps have hit the US market.

What sets Upcycled Grain Project apart is that they combat waste by making crackers and crisps with upcycled brewers’ grain. “People want to see companies make a difference for the planet. By upcycling this grain we are helping to achieve that and we are doing this without sacrificing flavour and quality,” says owner Jan Meyer.

It’s the result of a two-and-a-half-year journey. It began when Jan’s team, which also produces the renowned Rutherford and Meyer fruit pastes, began searching for the perfect sustainable ingredient to help the environment and consumers alike. They stumbled across leftover or “spent” grain at a local brewery. After some research and development, they’ve given it a new lease on life. “It’s an amazing grain that nobody was doing anything with, and it needed rescuing,” says Jan.

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The grain crisps hit the shelves in March 2022. They had four flavours: raisin and rosemary, cranberry and coconut, orange and sesame and fig and cardamom. Since the launch, the range has drawn attention. Positive responses show how much importance consumers place on sustainable and upcycled products, says Jan.

It’s also a big part of Upcycled Grain Project’s ethos of creating great-tasting food that benefits consumers, be it sustainable, health-focused or supporting New Zealand producers and growers. Sustainability is top of mind for Jan, given that 30% of food is wasted per year accounting for up to 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. “Food waste is a $940 billion global issue, and we know that upcycled food is recognised as the main solution to global warming,” she says.

But there is still a lot to do in the education space in New Zealand. “People don’t understand upcycling in New Zealand, they do in the US, for example, where there’s a huge amount of product.

“It’s not just a fad, it’s now an embedded movement there and it will get to that here when people understand 40% of food grown around the world is wasted,” says Jan.

Upcycling in the genes

The company Jan and husband Russell Coventry bought off her mother 20-something years ago transformed food waste into new products before upcycling was even a thing. “When my mother [Alison] and her friend/business partner Gaye started Rutherford and Meyer in 1996 they used to use surplus summer fruit to make their fruit pastes. What they didn’t know was that it is classified as an upcycled product.”

Back then the friends would make and sell their fruit pastes from their local golf club in Hawarden, North Canterbury. Fast forward to 2001, they decided to sell. At the time Russell, who has a commerce background, and Jan, with a nutrition degree and background in hotel/catering management, were looking to buy a business. “When this opportunity came up we grabbed it with both hands, and it turns out all of our knowledge and experience comes into play a lot,” says Jan.

Wellington is a good place to do business

Though they are both Cantabrians, there was never any doubt the couple would move the business to Wellington. “We never anticipated being in Wellington for so long, but we love it here. It was fantastic for our children to go to school here, and a lot of our friends became our family because we didn’t have family here.”

The business is on the road to becoming a certified B Corporation, which measures positive social and environmental impacts. And there are expansion plans. “We have great plans to grow, exponentially as well in the next few years. And once we help people understand upcycling in the food space, we will add more products to the line.”

“We like to keep at the forefront of what we’re doing and be innovative, let’s start using the grains that have already been grown here in New Zealand, keep working with what’s growing here and keep it going back through the food cycle”.

Jan Meyer