CINCINNATI — Ten sustainability-focused startups were selected to receive a total of $2.5 million in funding from The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger/Zero Waste Foundation Innovation Fund. Agua Bonita, Renewal Mill and Take Two are among brands to receive support in pioneering and accelerating solutions to reduce food waste while improving food security.

Each startup will be awarded $100,000 in upfront seed grant funding and will participate in a virtual workshop and networking with investors and mentors across the food system. The participants will be eligible for an additional $100,000 grant based on the achievement of identified program milestones. At the end of the six-month milestone development period, two startups will be selected for an opportunity to receive an additional $250,000 in 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.”

The Zero Hunger/ Zero Waste Foundation, in collaborating with Village Capital and the fund’s advisory committee, reviewed more than 145 applicants. Eighty percent of the startups chosen for the program are female-founded, 60% have a Black, Asian or Latinx founder, and 60% are located outside of California, Massachusetts and New York.

Agua Bonita, Hanford, Calif., makes ready-to-drink aguas frescas using upcycled produce. Renewal Mill, Oakland, Calif., transforms byproducts from the production of soy or oat milk into nutritious plant-based pantry staples. Take Two, Portland, Ore., offers a milk alternative based on barley left over from beer brewing. Brewer’s spent grain also is used the high-protein, high-fiber flour products offered by Grain4Grain, San Antonio.

Other participants include Husky Beverages, West Palm Beach, Fla., a maker of a sparkling tea featuring the husk of organic coffee fruit; Reblend, Denver, which produces frozen smoothie pops packed with surplus or imperfect fruits and vegetables; and Matriark Foods, Nyack, NY, which upcycles farm surplus and fresh-cut remnants into affordable products for institutional foodservice. Also selected for the program are technology startups focused on reducing food waste, including The Spare Food Co., New York; Netzro, Minneapolis; and Journey Foods, Austin, Texas.

“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.”

Food Forest, Imperfect Foods, Mobius, Replate, Ripe Revival, Seal the Seasons and Winnow participated in the first Innovation Fund cohort in 2019, receiving a total of $1 million in grants.

“Recent data shows that an annual investment of $14 billion over the next 10 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.”