In the vast world of the Circular Economy, there are figures and entities that shine for their determination to give new meaning to what many consider “waste.” Franco Dipietro, co-founder of Biova, is one such figure.
With his startup, he has embarked on a journey to rediscover the hidden value of bread waste, turning it into sustainable and valuable solutions for the industry.
We had the opportunity to speak with Franco to learn more about his vision, his challenges, and how upcycling is revolutionizing the agribusiness sector.
Hi Franco, introduce yourself briefly. Who are you and what role do you play within the startup?
Hello everyone, I am Franco Dipietro, one of the two founders of Biova Project, an innovative startup born in Turin in 2019. Our mission is to combat food waste by creating food products from what many people consider surplus, waste or unsold food from the food supply chain.
We started with a special focus on unsold bread, one of the most wasted foods, with about 1,300 tons per day, equivalent to one-third of Italy’s production.
Our initial challenge was to figure out how to recover this waste, which is widespread throughout the country, and then how to store and process it properly to create a new product.
We then entered the field of brewing, discovering that beer is a great way to recover bread and other starchy foods.
Beer is traditionally brewed by mashing different grains, which release sugars into the water and are subsequently fermented.
Our intuition was to replace some of the traditional raw materials with bread. With 150 kilograms of bread, we made 2,500 litres of craft beer, saving 30 per cent of barley malt.
This was just the beginning of our adventure with Biova, a project that fits perfectly into the Circular Economy and Sustainability perspective.
Can you describe the production process by which unsold bread becomes beer?
Biova’s production process begins with the recovery of unsold bread, which might sound simple, but in fact is not.
Traditionally, these unsold items, especially bread, are in most cases trashed.
To address this waste, Biova has established agreements and partnerships with manufacturers and distributors, both from the large-scale retail trade (GDO) and the food service industry (HORECA), to recover the necessary quantities of unsold bread.
Once collected, the bread is transported, thanks to our proprietary logistics, to a centre of our construction, where the process becomes more technological and innovative. Here, the bread is weighed, tracked, dried and treated to increase its shelf life.
It is then processed to make it suitable for brewing. This is certainly the most innovative part of the process, as it involves not only recovering but also storing the bread properly to preserve it and make it usable for brewing.
Once the stage of recovery and transformation into a new raw material is completed, we proceed to brewing.
From this point on, the process has no special technological innovations: the recovered bread is simply combined with the other traditional brewing ingredients.
Moreover, our business model, from procurement to distribution, takes a circular form. Often, the finished product is distributed by the same suppliers who provided us with the surplus bread.
It is important to add that we also work on our production waste.
We manage to recover the byproduct of brewing, known as spent threshing or barley malt, which in our case also includes bread residues or other starch.
Although it is a very fermentable and difficult matter to process, we manage to stop its fermentation and spoilage, using it as an ingredient for a line of baked goods. We have already created and launched ReSnack, a product derived from the byproduct of our breweries, a perfect example of upcycling: turning what is traditionally considered waste into something new and valuable.
In short, our process not only transforms unsold bread into beer but goes further, exploring the possibilities of the Circular Economy and sustainable transformation, demonstrating that waste can take on new forms and new uses.
What have been the challenges in adapting the production process to regulations regarding food safety?
The challenges in this regard were significant.
Initially, legislation was also an obstacle, as it was unclear how to handle the recovery of surplus or leftover food.
Minister Gadda’s law, the so-called Good Samaritan law, paved the way for these operations, but with important distinctions between charitable redistribution and reuse for profit.
As a for-profit company, Biova Project had to work out a system to take ownership of surplus food by purchasing it and becoming the owner of the goods themselves.
Quality, traceability and certification standards, such as ISO 22000, presented other challenges. Biova was new to certifiers, being neither traditional producers nor distributors.
However, through a strong commitment to traceability, Biova was able to achieve ISO 22000 certification.
Every piece of bread that enters their system is tracked by origin, batch, time of entry, stationing, and time of exit, ensuring detailed control in case of problems.
In terms of reducing food waste, what results has Biova achieved so far and what are the future goals?
Biova has made significant strides in terms of reducing environmental impact and food waste. Our main focus has always been on recovery, seeing it as a key indicator of the success of our business, including profitability.
In our first year, we recovered about 400 kilograms of bread, which even then seemed like a remarkable achievement.
Today we have managed to collect 22 tons of bread, an achievement that not only speaks to quantity but also translates into a number of significant co-benefits.
In addition to the recovery of bread, we are contributing to a reduction in the use of energy needed to produce these goods, preventing it from being wasted.
In addition, the non-use of new raw materials results in a reduction of pressure on the food supply chain, with benefits extending to various areas.
This also translates into savings for public spending, as we reduce the use of disposal systems, landfills, transportation and logistics related to managing such a large volume of waste.
In addition, we conducted a Life Cycle Assessment, calculating our Carbon Footprint specifically for the brewing process.
We found that, compared to the traditional process, we were able to save more than 1.3 tons of CO2 equivalent. This was made possible by recovering bread and not using new raw materials.
Biova’s future goals are geared toward further increasing the volume of recovery, extending our positive impacts on the environment, and continuing to innovate in ways that can actively contribute to reducing food waste and optimizing resource use.
You have started a crowdfunding campaign, can you tell us about the results you are getting?
As a key part of our business strategy, we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to accelerate Biova’s growth.
At the heart of our operations are so-called “Surplus Treatment Units,” food laboratories with warehouses, which we have designed specifically for the treatment of surplus and food waste.
These centres allow us to operate effectively within a given territorial radius, preventing prolonged transportation of waste and surplus from negating the environmental benefits of our work.
Our growth plan is based on replicating these centres in different areas, thus expanding our operations and, consequently, our business.
The main goal of fundraising is precisely to open new recovery centres. So far, with the crowdfunding campaign, we have raised nearly half a million euros, bringing us closer to the minimum goal that will allow us to set up a new centre, support an awareness campaign and strengthen our sales network.
Forty per cent of the total raised will be invested in building new recovery centres. The remainder will be devoted to strengthening the sales network and marketing and brand awareness activities, to be more effective and widespread in distribution.
In addition, we have a more ambitious goal of reaching 1.5 million. By exceeding this threshold, we will be able to not only build one centre but even expand two more, significantly accelerating our growth process.
Looking to the future, what are the development plans for Biova and if there are any new projects or initiatives you intend to explore?
Our main goal remains to reduce the food surplus through the creation of new products.
Currently, we are expanding our research beyond bread, exploring other surplus and new product opportunities.
For example, we have started experimenting with pasta scraps, which has already led to the creation of two types of beer made just from pasta totally innovative and unique product.
We are also exploring possibilities with broken rice, trying to cover more and more areas within the food supply chain.
Another focus for us is the use and reuse of spent grains, a by-product that is very abundant but has an extremely interesting nutritional profile.
We have initiated research with a university to develop a semi-finished product that will turn the spent grain into a useful ingredient for the creation of upcycled products.
In particular, we are focusing on creating an Italian-style pasta made just from the threshes.
Our research also extends to soft drinks, from vegetable milks to tamixology drinks and ready-made soft drinks, again starting from food surplus such as bread, pasta, rice, but also second- or third-choice vegetables and fruits that are often not sold in supermarkets.
We therefore continue to expand both the base from which we recover food surplus and the final product offerings to the public, always following our mission in the area of Circular Economy and sustainability.
What advice would you give to a company that wants to embark on a path in the Circular Economy?
As the founder of Biova, a startup that was born with a strong anchor in the principles of the Circular Economy, I can say that the path of business transformation to more sustainable practices may seem like a challenge, but it is fundamentally an opportunity.
The first piece of advice I can offer is to see this transformation not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity.
These are not costs that will be lost, but an investment in the company’s future. Currently, it is just the right time to transform in order to survive in the changing economic and environmental scenario.
It is important to have courage and not neglect the cultural aspect. Corporate culture is the main driver of any transformation.
Once cultural change is initiated, profit benefits will also follow. Transforming at the last second may not be as effective; many companies are already gaining ground by boldly moving forward in this direction.
So, in summary: Courage, a vision of the Circular Economy as an opportunity, and a focus on corporate culture are the key elements to successfully embarking on a sustainability journey.
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