“It’s an interesting story,” says TJ Galiardi, co-founder and CMO of Halifax-based Outcast Foods, about his path from NHL hockey player to food waste champion. “I kind of fell into it,” he says, “but I really love what I’m doing.”
In 2017, Galiardi’s professional hockey career was winding down and he was looking for new opportunities. At the same time, Darren Burke, an entrepreneur and supplements expert who had sold his sports nutrition company in 2013, was ready to re-enter the high-performance nutrition market. The two had been friends since Galiardi’s early years in the NHL, and both recognized the growing demand for nutritional supplements that were vegan and sustainably sourced.
“The big thing we wanted to do was find a way to take some of our personal experiences and lifestyle choices and bring them into our business,” explains Galiardi. “I try to live a very sustainable life, especially being vegan, and a big part of my choice to have a plant-based lifestyle is around sustainability.” One thing they wanted to target was food waste, he says. The pair figured they’d partner with an ingredient supplier that was already using surplus produce and incorporate that in their powder formulations.
But after searching around for a supplier already converting food waste into whole fruit and vegetable powders, the co-founders decided to instead take on the challenge of “upcycling” the still-nutritious produce themselves. “It was such a big opportunity that we couldn’t turn away from it—this simple idea of taking surplus produce and dehydrating it to give it a two- to three-year shelf life,” recalls Galiardi.
Outcast’s raw material includes “ugly” but edible fruit and vegetables—that may be misshapen, for example—from a network of 18 local farms, and by-products such as discarded cuttings from food processors. The company also recently entered into a partnership with Sobeys to take unsellable produce from the grocer’s Debert, N.S. distribution centre, as well as select Nova Scotia stores.
Galiardi says they’ve worked hard to develop a system that doesn’t interrupt Sobeys’ process, while saving the grocer money on things like tipping fees. “Grocers are working in a fast-paced environment, so we had to find a way within their current system to make it work,” he explains. “Now that it’s finally past the goal line I think it’s impressive, and there’s true potential there to really revolutionize the food waste system in all of grocery.” Produce is shipped to Outcast’s 5,000-sq.-ft. facility, where it is dehydrated using patent-pending, high-efficiency technology. This keeps the process “as energy-efficient as possible,” says Galiardi, “but also makes sure that we dehydrate the fruits and vegetables in a gentle way, because you want a truly high-value product at the end.”
In addition to selling the resulting powders to food companies, Outcast turns them into products such as its own high-performance Plant Strong protein powder, formulated by Burke and sold in flavours such as Chocolate Smoothie, Vanilla Smoothie, and the soon-to-be-launched Lemon Meringue Pie, Fruit Explosion and Mint Chocolate Chip. “We built that brand as a case study around upcycling to see how consumers would react to it, and it’s been great, and it’s growing well, especially within Sobeys,” says Galiardi. “It’s really nice to see that full circle of taking produce that was supposed to end up on their shelves and didn’t, repurposing it, and putting it back on the shelves in a different fashion.”
The company also produces a line of vegan vitamins, and this fall introduces Super Greens+, made with upcycled organic greens, organic lion’s mane, reishi and chaga mushrooms, and naturally flavoured with pineapple and coconut.
Additional dehydrating plants are already in the works. “We’re planning on having a new facility just outside of Nova Scotia in early 2021, and there are a couple of unique things that we’ve been working on in Southern Ontario; joint ventures with some companies that are synergistic with our business,” says Galiardi, adding that a facility located near Calgary is also currently on the table. “Now that we’ve been in it for a few years and are seeing our idea come to life, we’re more optimistic about the impact we can really make on the planet.”
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s November issue.