After selling Pacific Superfoods Snacks, a flavored kale chip company, to Made In Nature, local entrepreneur Sarah Pool got a call from New York quite out of the blue. It was from ZX Ventures, a global disruptive growth group, incubator and venture capital team backed by one of the largest multinational companies in the world, AB InBev, asking her to solve a problem.
The beer industry, while making one of the world's most loved beverages, produces 8 billion pounds of leftover grain each year through the brewing process. Some of our larger local brewers produce up to 6 tons of spent grain per day. This leftover grain still contains lots of fiber and protein but is low in carbohydrates because the starch goes into the beer. Because this mixture is highly perishable, there's no easy way to deal with it. Some brewers sell or give it away to farmers as stock feed or to bakeries to make bread and other baked goods. The reality is the market isn't using all of it and a significant amount just ends up in the ground.
- Canvas Barley Milk
The New York team viewed this spent grain quandary from a food science perspective, developing a lactic acid fermentation process—the first of its kind—to keep the grain from going to waste. With their background in the beer industry they had no idea what to do with this new product. That's when Pool got the call.
Pool had already been in the health food industry and created kale chips, another "disruptive" food product. (Disruptive products are defined in Wikipedia as "an innovation that creates a new market and value network.")
The group asked Pool if she was interested in turning the saved grain from beer, a sustainable, plant-based fiber and protein source, into something good, something beneficial for the mass market. She did some research and decided it was a no-brainer to pursue the project. She said, "Beer is already the coolest thing, let's turn it into something even cooler."
Now what to do with it?
Pool's first thought was to turn it into a superfood smoothie. After a bunch of prototypes she brought the smoothie to chefs she knew in New York and Portland. The feedback wasn't great. They complained about the product being too thick and having a weird, grainy texture. Pool went back to the drawing board and produced hundreds of prototypes before discovering the final product: barley milk. Her next step was to start a company that would produce her new product.
Saving the grain with Canvas Barley Milk
Pool is now CEO and co-founder of Canvas, the company producing a ready-to-drink beverage made for people on the go. It's nutritionally balanced with 15 grams of fiber (nearly half of the recommended daily intake), 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. Pool says, "It's more than just a milk, it's almost like a meal." I asked her what it tasted like and she said, "The original flavor tastes like cereal milk, it has the sweetness of the grain. It's so good!" Canvas Barley Milk comes in five flavors: original, cold brew coffee, turmeric chai, matcha, and cocoa & spice.
Canvas is coming to market with a crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign launching July 17. Campaign backers can pre-purchase products at a discount; a full case of 12 bottles will be offered at half off of retail, for $29. Pool says the goal of the campaign is to get the product out to the community at a discount and get feedback. She wants to know what people think of the flavor, packaging and whether they have any other ideas.
Once the Kickstarter campaign wraps up toward the end of the summer, Pool is hoping to get Canvas onto local supermarket shelves. And local is just the beginning. Pool sees the global potential of using spent grain. She's hoping that eventually malnourished communities around the world will have access to the process Canvas uses to turn leftover grain into a nutritious food source.