When wheat is farmed, the stalk — which makes up most of the crop by weight — often goes to waste.
Tom Simmons, founder and CEO of The Supplant Company, sees opportunity in those stalks. His company, which was started on the premise of upcycling waste into nutritious and sustainable staple ingredients, recently launched Supplant Grain & Stalk Flour. This new flour blend uses the wheat grain, just like traditional flour, but it also includes some of the stalks.
The end result, Simmons said, is a flour that looks, tastes and behaves similar to traditional wheat grain flour, but it has fewer calories, up to six times the fiber, and fewer net carbohydrates.
“Writ large across the farm, you could effectively double the output of an arable farm, which not only will produce more food but it has less environmental impact per ton of food product made,” Simmons said.
The company is processing the flour to sell to foodservice and manufacturers, but it’s also turning it into pasta to sell directly to consumers. Supplant’s Grain & Stalk Pasta is available on the company’s website.
The flour is Supplant’s second upcycled ingredient. The first, which debuted at the end of 2021, is a sweetener derived from plant waste such as corn cobs. Supplant’s sweetener, made through a process including enzymatic transformation and processing, is almost as sweet as sugar. It’s been available in direct-to-consumer chocolate bars on the company’s website and is making its way to foodservice.
Simmons said that Supplant aims to be a B2B supplier that creates natural ingredients that meet three pillars: Improved nutrition, high sustainability and increasing food security through abundance.
“We’re doing the bulk components because that’s really what the health issues are caused by. That’s really what the environmental issues are caused by,” Simmons said. “And that’s the unique thing that this approach can really do. It can do scale bulk replacement of ingredients.”
From stalk to pasta
Simmons said he had always planned to create an ingredient in the refined starch sector that could be like the Supplant sweetener. So he looked around at where to find abundant raw material, and how to use chemistry to transform it.
Simmons said he wasn’t necessarily looking to upcycle wheat stalks, but he found opportunity with them.
Essentially, the company uses enzymes to release different fibers from the stalks, Simmons said. The object is not to break down the fibers, which is essentially how Supplant’s sweetener is made, but to release them in a way that the substance can be formulated to behave more like starch.
Supplant also processes the grain like a traditional flour maker, and blends the grain flour with the stalk flour. The blend depends on the end product. Stalk flour brings more protein, more fiber and fewer calories to the end product, Simmons said.
And pasta, which is traditionally mostly made of flour and not known for its nutritional value, is where Simmons felt would be a good place to start to show the flour off.
The flour was first showcased at a dinner at Michelin-starred Chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant in New York. Courses included crackers, flatbreads, croutons and different types of pasta — tagliatelle, ramen and gnocchi, Simmons said.
Chefs at Per Se continue to work with the flour and incorporate it into dishes, Simmons said. The pasta available for consumers to buy online is in a tubular ridged shape, similar to rigatoni. It costs $4.99 for an eight-ounce box — more expensive than bulk grocery store pasta, but less than some specialty pastas made from potatoes or pulses. At scale, he said, the plan is for the pasta to be at a more accessible price to all consumers.
“That’s both where their business opportunity is, of course, but it’s also where the real impact is both environmentally and socially,” Simmons said. “If you really want to do anything on the environment, you need to be big.”
Opportunities in B2B business
For both of Supplant’s ingredients, the company has branded DTC products available on its website. The company makes five varieties of chocolate bars and two types of shortbread with its sweetener, as well as the Supplant Grain & Stalk Pasta.
However, Simmons said, these are more or less “stepping stones” to the larger ingredients market. That’s where Supplant plans to do more of its business.
The sweetener is now used in about 400 locations across the United States, Simmons said, and they are making about 200 tons a year. The company is looking for more manufacturing partnerships to be able to increase its capacity, he said. There have also been ongoing talks with major food manufacturers to use Supplant’s sweetener in products, Simmons said.
Simmons hopes to develop the flour to the same place. Right now, he said, the company can produce hundreds of tons of it a year. He wants to get it into restaurants, continue to validate and improve the process, and eventually work toward its use in CPG products.
“These are really staples of the diet — breads and pastas and things like that — so we can really start making that case,” he said. “Clearly, this really can make an impact if it were global.”