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World Food Day 2019

Realising the full potential in everything… including barley and beer

Gregory Belt

Global Vice-President Value Creation, ANHEUSER-BUSCH InBev

A casual conversation led to a surprising discovery; beer holds the potential to provide millions of people with nutrition they need. Just not in the way you might think.

Five years ago, Greg Belt, Vice-President of Value Creation at AB InBev, was having a beer with a colleague after work. They started talking about why the nutritious spent grain from the brewing process was sold to dairy farmers.

This conversation led Greg down an unexpected path that changed the company’s strategy; giving spent grain a second life in the form of ‘saved grain’ by making beer by-products suitable for consumption in order to help deliver nutrition to those with the greatest need.

Barley was one of the earliest grains to be domesticated and remains the primary source of beer’s flavour and colour. It is brewed in virtually every part of the world.

Brewers’ spent grains are a by-product of the brewing process and provide a real opportunity to maximise on its potential as a human food source.

Surprising partnerships from start-ups to the public sector

Greg remains humble about the genesis of the brewers’ ‘saved’ grain. “We couldn’t have done this on our own. The development of this protein is an example of how private and public sector, big companies and start-ups, could work together to solve world problems.”

The University College Cork, led by Professor Dr Elke Arendt, provided analysis of brewers’ spent grain components and determined if – and how – it could be transformed into something that had nutritional value for humans.

The nutritional value of barley protein is not the question. The question remains how to get it in the hands of those who need it the most.

The magic then began when they partnered with Ian Mackay, CEO of start-up Zea10 (the “real heroes,” as Greg refers to them), who developed a process for producing, barley protein, with applications far beyond just beverages. Zea10’s primary focus on sustainable nutrition drove their effort to develop protein products from spent grains and that philosophy meshed nicely with Greg’s work driving sustainability goals.  

Empowering all employees to affect change

Empowering workers by referring to them as ‘owners’, for example, may sounds strange to some, but means that everyone in the company is uniquely responsible for its success and uniquely empowered to dream big.

The saved grain is a perfect example of this ‘dream culture’ – Greg and his team, along with Elke and Ian, were not afraid to explore the potential within barley and dream to contribute to meeting the nutritional needs of 10 million people or more by 2030.

The next challenge: getting nutrition to those who need it

Greg acknowledges that 10 million people is only a small fraction of the population facing significant under-nutrition and malnutrition, but that barley protein holds potential to reach many more.

“The nutritional value of barley protein is not the question. The question remains how to get it in the hands of those who need it the most.”

Bolstered by successful partnerships with UCC and Zea10, Greg is looking to partner with development formulators, nutrient players, and universities for additional R&D… all with one aim in mind: to make barley protein more affordable.

Addressing world hunger one beer at a time

Greg had been close to partnering with a globally recognised non-profit organisation to look at producing the barley protein more efficiently to make it cheaper for developing markets, but the partnership was halted over concerns of working with an alcohol company.

Greg does not shy away from the fact that we are predominantly a beer company. “What makes this product viable is the beer – without beer, there would be no spent grain and without that, no barley protein.

Having a solution to a world problem based on altruism alone may not be sustainable. World problems need sustainable solutions. But a product that has a commercial value and the ability to address a social need… To me, that is the definition of sustainability.” 

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