DENVER – While there is consensus that upcycled food is a viable product category, until now there has been no consensus on how the category should be defined.

“Upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment,” according to a definition released by the Upcycled Food Association on May 20.

The definition was created by a task force that included researchers from Harvard University, Drexel University and such non-profit groups as ReFED, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Wildlife Fund and was convened by the Upcycled Food Association.

“It sounds obvious,” said Ben Gray, chief operations officer of the Upcycled Food Association (UFA). “But the process of arriving at the definition is just as important as the definition itself. This definition was created for the same reasons the Upcycled Food Association was created: to unify the industry, clarify the vision, and serve as a center of gravity for the upcycled movement.”

The UFA plans to use the definition as a foundation for a product certification program scheduled to launch later this year.

“Reducing food waste is the single greatest solution to climate change according to Project Drawdown,” Mr. Gray said. “We envision a future in which many products in every aisle and around the perimeter proudly display the upcycled certification, giving consumers the opportunity to vote to reduce food waste with their dollars.”

Research has shown consumers are interested in upcycled foods. A study by Mattson, a food and beverage product development consultancy based in Fremont, Calif., found more than 50% of consumers want to buy upcycled foods. And a 2019 study by the market researcher Future Market Insights found the value of the upcycled food industry to be more than $46 billion, with a predicted 5% compound annual growth rate.

“Scaling up the use of upcycled foods offers a powerful opportunity to make our supply chain more efficient and resilient,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and a task force member who participated in the creation of the definition. “This upcycled foods definition serves as a strong starting place to help businesses, consumers, and other users align around a common meaning and usage of the term. Further research can be done to identify and leverage policy incentives to support upcycled foods as a model to reduce food waste and support a more sustainable food system.”