Where brewers saw waste, this entrepreneur saw a business

Lead Human
SmartBrief illustration

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

If you are a beer drinker, doesn’t the idea of being able to eat it sound cool? That is exactly what Dan Kurzrock and his friend Jordan Schwartz thought when they started ReGrained and created their first product, a bar made from the “spent” grain from the brewing process.

Well, it was more of a realization. Kurzrock was an avid home brewer and he noticed how much grain was left after the brewing process. For the small brewer and even for the larger craft brewer this grain was waste. He felt there had to be some way to close the loop

In this interview, we talk about entrepreneurship, the food system, and upcycling what was once thought of as “spent” grain.

How did the idea for ReGrained originate?

"I learned how to make beer when I was 19 and fell in love with the hobby. I was only making five gallons of beer, but filling up coolers 20-30 pounds of grain. I would soak it in water, drain that liquid and continue with my brew day. At the end of the day, we'd have to do something with the giant vat of food. It occurred to us: Beer leaves food behind." 

"This stuff smelled like bread. It tasted kind of like oatmeal, mild, not super sweet but definitely not bad. We didn't know much about the nutrition at the time, but we knew that we were left with something that shouldn't be considered trash, yet was ending up in the dumpster. I was raised to care about our planet and its limited resources. So, I wanted to think of something clever to do with the leftovers. I had an entrepreneurial mindset, and while I couldn't sell my beer to my friends, I figured that if I could sell food made from the waste from my beer-making process. If I could get them excited enough about that, every week I could brew beer for free!"

"The original concept was to have a closed-loop brewery/bakery. But, as we started doing our research by interviewing brewers and paying attention to what's happening in this space, we realized our idea could be much more meaningful. Sure, we could create a novel brewpub, but we also identified a larger opportunity to build a platform between the brewing industry and the food system. Craft beer had started to boom. As of today, there are more than two new brewers opening per day. A lot of these breweries are opening in cities, which is a different ecosystem than a brewery that's in a more rural area."

“What we learned is that they, like us as homebrewers, are left with a lot of grain and not a lot of demand for it. Whereas most big breweries, can sell their spent grain to farmers. It really highlighted for us that the opportunity went far beyond our passion for making great beer. There was this emerging waste problem that could be reframed as food opportunity.”

“We discovered a rich history of home brewers making their own bread, and other baked treats. We found scientific literature about the benefits of this 'spent' grain, how it's high in protein, high in fiber, because once it's been used to brew, it's lower in sugar. We saw an opportunity to try and really create a market for this as a supergrain ingredient. It's a very old idea to not waste. You look at a cheese making, and the byproduct that they have, which is whey, that used to end up in waste streams. Now it's a huge source of revenue for cheese makers. I once had an expert tell me that many cheese makers now produce the cheese as the byproduct of whey.”

What’s your vision for ReGrained?

“My vision for ReGrained is to close the nutrient loop between the brewing industry and the food system, at scale. What I mean by that is that we are going to be the go-to solution for breweries, for upcycling their edible byproduct, and we're going to be the platform between them and consumers. ReGrained is going to become a household name for the next supergrain that pairs superior nutrition with taste and environmental impact. We see ReGrained as this vehicle for enabling our food system to do more with less, and being one of the shining lights of example of what the circular economy looks like for food.”

What keeps you up at night?

“Oh man, lots of things. I worry that we're not moving fast enough all the time. Sometimes I worry that we're moving too fast. That one cuts both ways. Right now, we're up against making a co-packer transition. I worry all the time that something will go wrong with that. Really what it comes down to when I think about what I'm actually concerned with, it's that we know that we are the first brand to put out a consumer product with this upcycled grain at its core. This is really exciting, but we're still a small company, and I hope we can continue to stay out in front."

What’s been the biggest obstacle?

“One of the things that has been really interesting is how you frame a food waste product to your customers. It's less an obstacle and more of a challenge. We make healthy, really delicious products that are also sustainable. We want our customers to know that every bar that they buy is making an impact, but we also don't want to yuck their yum.”

What would your current self tell your former self?

“Walk across to the other side of campus and find a food science person to be one of your co- founders with you and Jordan,” Kuzrock said with a chuckle. 

Would you do it again?

“Oh yeah, for sure. I love what I do. It's great. I can't imagine doing anything else. People ask me all the time, ‘Do you think you're going to start a bunch of companies?’ If this fails, sure, I'd probably start another company. I try to come up with ideas all the time, I love it, but I really believe in this one. I believe wholeheartedly that someone is going to successfully close this loop, and that it will be us. The ReGrained concept makes way too much sense. It's something that is so black and white in my mind that I could never imagine going back and not pursuing this opportunity." 

 

Like the Lead Human interviews? Leave us your email and we’ll send you audio excerpts, pictures, and all kinds of cool stuff. Get your bonus materials here.

Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution, build velocity, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Food Dive.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have a food, grocery and CPG email, one of more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.