Kroger Picks 10 Food Innovators for $2.5M Development Program

Funding cohort focused on surplus and upcycled food
Courtesy Kroger Co.

Ten food entrepreneurs specializing in new products utilizing surplus or upcycled foods have been selected to receive $100,000 each in seed grant funding from Kroger Co. as part of a $2.5 million Innovation Fund through the retailer’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation and the investor Village Capital.

The selected brands were selected from among 145 applicants. They will participate in a virtual workshop focused on investment readiness, technical skill development and networking with a community of investors and mentors in and around the food system. They will have exclusive access to the Foundation and to Village Capital’s leaders and partners, as well as the option to apply for follow-on funding.

“Enabling early-stage innovation is critical to our mission to create more resilient communities that are free of hunger and waste,” said Denise Osterhues, president of The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation. “The Innovation Fund is designed to support game-changing ideas for building a more efficient and sustainable future food system for people and our planet. The pandemic and its continued impacts are a constant reminder that our country cannot afford to waste surplus food any longer.”

After achieving program specific milestones, cohort members will each be eligible for an additional $100,000 grant from the Fund to support their growth. At the end of the six-month milestone development period, two startups will be selected by their cohort peers for an opportunity to receive an additional $250,000 in funding.

The Foundation and Village Capital are said they were focused on supporting founders with lived experience in the problems they’re solving: 80% of startups in the program have a female founder or co-founder, 60% have a Black, Asian, and/or Latinx founder and 60% are headquartered outside of California, Massachusetts and New York.

Agua Bonita, Hanford, Calif., which makes a ready-to-drink aguas frescas from upcycled produce and served in culturally inspired and recyclable cans.

Grain4Grain, San Antonio, which uses patent-pending technology to upcycle brewers spent grain into a low-carb, high-protein and high-fiber flour.

Husky Beverages, West Palm Beach, Fla., is an innovative brand featuring the healthy superfruit of coffee, debuting in early 2021 with a sparkling tea made from the “husk” of organic, upcycled coffee fruit.

Journey Foods, Austin, Texas, is a portfolio intelligence company that solves food science and supply chain inefficiencies with software to help companies direct more surplus food to those who need it.

Matriark Foods, Nyack, N.Y., upcycles farm surplus and fresh-cut remnants into healthy affordable products for institutional foodservice, diverting food from landfills while feeding communities the healthy food they deserve.

NETZRO, based in Minneapolis, is a food tech platform for recovering industrial byproducts at scale that would otherwise be wasted into new upcycled ingredients.

reBLEND, Denver, is a line of frozen smoothie pops packed with fruits, veggies and superfoods tacking food waste by re-harvesting produce that would typically be discarded.

Renewal Mill, based in Oakland, Calif., upcycles byproducts from food manufacturing into superfood ingredients and premium, plant-based pantry staples.

Take Two, Portland, Ore., is a plant-based food company that creates second chances by using what it calls Rejuvenated Barley, or upcycled spent grain from beer production, to craft products, including a line of nutritious barley milks.

The Spare Food Co. New York, is an upcycled food tech platform that creates foods and drinks using overlooked and unused ingredients sourced from growers and food processors.

“We are incredibly impressed by this new group of creative thinkers and innovators tackling the upcycled food frontier,” said Sunny Reelhorn Parr, executive director of The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation. “The Foundation is excited to collaborate with Village Capital to support the second cohort of innovators who are elevating food to its highest use and disrupting the linear supply chain. At scale, each of these solutions have the potential to create systems-level change, improve inefficiencies and prevent food waste.”

The Foundation welcomed its first Innovation Fund cohort in 2019, awarding a total of $1 million to accelerate programs and solutions developed by startups Food Forest, Imperfect Foods, mobius, Replate, Ripe Revival, Seal the Seasons and Winnow.

“Recent data shows that an annual investment of $14 billion over the next ten years can reduce food waste by 45 million tons each year,” said Kelly Bryan, manager of sustainability practice at Village Capital. “We are providing funding and wraparound development and mentorship opportunities to provide these entrepreneurs and future food industry leaders the very best start possible for their businesses.”


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