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Make The World Better: Susgrainable

Going against the grain to repurpose spent barley into raw ingredients

/ 30 mins / SparxTeam

From pilsners to stouts, lagers to fruity milkshake IPAs, craft beer has taken over the hearts of beer drinkers around the world. The downside? Spent grain waste. The silver lining? Spent grain can be made into raw ingredients so good you’d barley beer-lieve these grains also made your pint (okay, we’ll cool it on the puns now).

Susgrainable is leading the charge here in Canada, using spent grains from craft brewers for their own line of delicious, fibre-rich raw ingredients. We spoke with Marc Wandler, CEO, about this start-up’s fascinating journey, from classroom to grocery shelves. 

Marc (left) and Clinton (right) at their very first retailer CHFA tradeshow. Turns out, retailers were very interested in what Susgrainable is up to. This event signalled to the Susgrainable team that the upcycling facility was going to be needed sooner rather than later!

Tell us about your organization’s mission.

Susgrainable Health Foods rescues spent grains from craft brewers to create nutritious, delicious, and easy-to-make flours and baking mixes. Susgrainable is on a mission to rescue the over 450,000 tons of brewers’ spent grain produced by craft breweries in Canada daily – doing our part to decrease the staggering 58% of wasted food

Our mission is to also promote the discussion around consuming enough fibre. Spent grain is primarily composed of fibre and protein, with the sugars being used for the beer itself. Most Canadians aren’t even getting 50% of their daily fibre intake; one Susgrainable cookie can help you get 25% of your daily fibre while fighting food waste at the same time!

What inspired you/your founders to start your organization?

Our story began during my time as an MBA student at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. During one of my classes, we were tasked with identifying a problem and creating a possible business solution for the problem, and a colleague who came from Vancouver’s craft beer industry mentioned the issue breweries were having with disposing of the spent grain byproduct. With my background in health promotion, I realized this byproduct is exactly what Canadians needed more of in their diets. 

After the class project ended, I carried the business forward with friend and business partner, Clinton Bishop. Clinton was raised on a farm that grew barley (not to mention he’s a beer lover), so he was motivated by the idea of using much more of the grain. 

Susgrainable’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix was a finalist in the BC Food & Beverage Product of the Year Awards, pictured alongside the trophy and eventual winner. Both products make for a great healthy kids snack!

What were some of the challenges you/your founders encountered?

At first, people we talked to were skeptical about us taking on something so innovative. However, once people tried the product, they started believing we were onto something after all. Another challenge is building awareness on a bootstrapped budget and raising capital as first-time founders. 

By far, however, the biggest challenge has been COVID-19. We had to completely pivot the business and accelerate our timelines on some of the tasks we had for the future. This came with a lot of risk and uncertainty. We often joke that we aren’t technically first-time founders, as we have pretty much bootstrapped two businesses due to COVID-related market flipping causing us to rebuild from scratch. 

What do you consider your organization’s biggest success?

This might be a toss-up between our Kickstarter campaign and our first-ever tradeshow, CHFA West run by the Canadian Health Food Association. Despite having some serious things go wrong operationally behind the scenes, we were able to pull things off just in time. The excitement both events generated was tremendous. 

What makes your organization unique?

While our signature Upcycled Barley Flour is a unique ingredient, our circular economy approach to building our business is unique as well. We are disrupting the way to do business within the food industry in more ways than one. The sum of all parts when it comes to how we do business and live our values is Susgrainable’s secret sauce. 

One Susgrainable cookie can help you get 25% of your daily fibre while fighting food waste at the same time.

How do you feel your organization makes the world better?

Susgrainable is making the world better by fighting food waste, tackling the lack of fibre in the Canadian diet, and creating work opportunities for students.

We like to say our primary focus is on creating impact with positive financial impact being the byproduct of this work – most traditional for-profit businesses focus on creating financial returns first with impact as a secondary focus. We believe flipping the hierarchy of these two goals is the future of successful, sustainable businesses.

Tell us about your organization’s goals.

Currently, our biggest goal is to launch British Columbia’s first-ever dedicated upcycling facility. This will increase our capacity to rescue grains from 10,000 kg/year to up to 5 million kg/year. With the facility, we can then be in a better position to partner with other food businesses and retailers to innovate on different products and make Upcycled Barley Flour a more known and common ingredient. 

A secondary goal we have is to work more closely with a few key retailers to grow awareness about Susgrainable’s mission and products.

Clinton (left) and Marc (right) learning about the spent grain and distilling process at a potential upcycling facility partner.

Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects you’d like to share?

The upcycling facility is a big next step and is currently taking up the majority of our time and focus right now. We are currently fundraising to bring this idea to reality.

That being said, customers have increasingly been asking for us to get the product into grocery stores, so we’re excited to announce that we have recently launched into select Safeway, Thrifty Foods, and Nature’s Fare Markets locations in BC!

What do you most want people to know about your organization?

We want people to know that we are there to support them in their journey to live a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Upcycled Barley Flour can be a fun ingredient to play with in baking. It has a great story, and you can make some incredible products with it; my favourite is the Banana Bread while Clinton’s is the Pancake and Waffle Mix. The mixes are a great starting point because they are easy enough for kids to bake something up without making too big of a mess. Plus, it makes for a great conversation starter when talking about being mindful of food waste.

How can people help or contribute to your organization’s mission?

The first step is giving our products a try – we’ve got a starter pack on our website, or you can look up where to find the product in-store. After that, sharing Susgrainable’s message with friends and family is a huge bonus. Word-of-mouth marketing is greatly impactful for small businesses. 

We love seeing posts on social media with people enjoying the product; it gives us motivation on those tough days. For those who want to play a bigger part, feel free to reach out and let us know what you have in mind. We are always keen to collaborate when we can. Creativity and collaboration are our jam!

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This story was featured in the Make The World Better magazine:

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