This summer, Tyler Malek, co-founder of ice cream concept Salt & Straw, and his team created 15 flavors of ice cream crafted from “rescued food”—produce, whey, spent grains and even vegan mayo that was destined for the trash. Sustainability was a goal, but “it isn’t only a supply chain issue; it’s a marketing issue,” Malek says. “Through ice cream, we have a really cool ‘soapbox’ to tell the food waste story.” The fact that it drew traffic from like-minded consumers was a business-boosting bonus.
Scrounging for scraps
Malek worked with about 20 different partners to procure products that would normally go to waste. But “we didn’t know what ingredients we would get until they were delivered,” he says. Talks with these suppliers spurred flavor ideas, and often the surplus turned out to be a real plus. Overripe strawberries, for example, are super sweet and better for ice cream, says Malek. Jerusalem artichokes, when baked and spiced, taste like apples.
Creating a viable supply chain
While some ingredients were donated, Salt & Straw purchased others directly from farms. Malek was firm about paying the farmers’ market rate so they would continue to reach out to him. “We didn’t try to get a ‘deal’ on seconds—we’re trying to build an economy around rescued food so it becomes valuable.”
A new approach to food safety
Salt & Straw had to design a new HACCP plan for sourcing rescued food. In many cases, donated ingredients cannot be traced back to the where they’re grown or produced. “We had to create and invest in our own processes to prove that the products were safe,” says Malek. But freezing the ingredients helps; “Ice cream is the ultimate vehicle for food preservation,” he says.
Telling the story
Malek wrote descriptions of the ice creams and explained their stories to staff to guide tastings and enable a dialogue with customers. The menu was promoted with pop-up events and social media. He says the social cause helped boost traffic: “We had a chance to interact with people that had never visited our shops.”
Malek estimates that the summer’s zero-waste ice cream menu saved about 2,000 pounds of food. “We put only
a tiny dent in the food waste problem, but we inspired 10,000 people by educating them,” he says. And now that safety and purchasing processes are in place, he sees rescued food becoming a bigger part of Salt & Straw’s business.