In mid-2016, Claire Schlemme (pictured) became the CEO of Renewal Mill, a public benefit corporation that reduces food waste by transforming fiber-rich scraps from food processing operations into flour that can be sold wholesale. Tofu represents a particularly good test case because it yields such a huge amount of byproduct.
The initial recipe requires soy milk, which must be extracted from dry soybeans, which are boiled and blended to produce the liquid that eventually results in tofu. Every pound of soy milk yields at least its own weight in wet pulp. For major manufacturers, this presents a pretty big storage and logistics hurdle.
The concept earned Renewal a spot and equity investment from Techstars Farm to Fork accelerator this summer. In October, the company secured a research and development partnership with Cargill, which could expand the appeal of its ingredients to all sorts of food manufacturers. “Okara really struck a chord with me because it was so similar to some of the challenges I had with the juice business, but at this much greater scale,” Schlemme says. “It was this light bulb moment. Wow, this could be a really interesting solution to both the food waste challenge and also affordable nutrition.”