Claire Schlemme & Caroline Cotto

Claire Schlemme & Caroline Cotto - Co-Founders, Renewal Mill

Claire Schlemme & Caroline Cotto

Claire Schlemme & Caroline Cotto

Co-Founders, Renewal Mill

Creating crave-worthy plant-based foods by upcycling nutritious ingredients within the food system.

I first learned about Renewal Mill several years ago in browsing the baking aisle at my local grocery store.  I was curious about this new brand of gluten-free flour that was not only high in nutrients like protein and fiber but also made from the byproduct of plant-based milk processing, I became hooked on Renewal Mill’s baking flours – the 1-to-1 Gluten Free Baking Flour, Organic Okara Flour and High Protein Oat Milk Flour.

Fast-forward a year or so, I was thrilled to unexpectedly meet Caroline at a Food Waste Solutions Summit.  The rest is history…Caroline, Claire and I connected over a common passion for curbing food waste AND baking, and shortly thereafter, I invested in Renewal Mill.

I continue to be so inspired by what Claire and Caroline (together with Chef Alice Medrich) have built – the exclusive product collaborations that they create with other brands including Just Date, Burlap & Barrel, Salt & Straw, Tia Lupita and more; their expansion into foodservice working with distributors and partners like Baldor and Compass Group; and private label products that many of you may see on shelf at Whole Foods and Sur La Table.

You can’t go wrong with any of Renewal Mill’s recipes or the growing number of crave-worthy baking mixes that they have created  – brownies, cookies, cupcakes, the newly-released Seed & Sumac Cracker Mix.

As Caroline notes, this problem of food waste is one that we have control over, and Renewal Mill has made the solution a simple, nutritious and delicious one for all.  Bake a better future…fight climate change from your kitchen!

Please meet and follow Claire and Caroline, learn about how you can support them below, and don’t forget to add Renewal Mill products to your carts at Whole Foods, Amazon and more!

With gratitude for this community,

Q&A

In a few simple sentences, please describe what Renewal Mill is all about.
{Caroline}: At a high level, Renewal Mill’s mission is to reduce food waste, which is one of the leading drivers of climate change. We do this by finding places in the food system where nutrition is being lost (namely through byproduct streams) and returning that nutrition to people’s plates. We got our start upcycling the pulp leftover from soymilk production into gluten-free flour, and since then have expanded our work to include upcycling the pulp leftover from oat milk production, the corn fines leftover from milling corn meal, the pineapple cores leftover from juicing, and whole off-spec green bananas that aren’t fit for grocery store shelves. We sell our upcycled ingredients on their own, but also use them to make delicious value-added products including baking mixes and ready-to-eat cookies with the help our James Beard Award-winning chef Alice Medrich.

Tell us about your background and what inspired you to create Renewal Mill?
{Caroline}: I like to joke that I was destined to work in the food industry: my last name means “cooked” in Italian, I’m from the town of Sandwich, MA, and my parents own an ice cream store named after me. Prior to Renewal Mill, I’d spent my early career exploring food from a variety of angles. This journey took me to the White House where I worked on Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! child obesity initiative, to the UN World Food Programme in Cambodia where I worked on rice fortification to reverse malnutrition, to the Techstars Farm to Fork program where I helped incubate 10 businesses along the food supply chain. In 2018, I learned the statistic that 40% of food in the US is wasted each year and immediately knew I wanted to work on solving this problem. It was then that I met Claire who had created the concept for Renewal Mill after experiencing food waste first hand in her previous juicing business. We met in a canoe and immediately knew we wanted to jointly paddle toward the goal of putting upcycled food on the map as a consumer-driven solution to food waste. For the last 5 years we’ve worked tirelessly to achieve that mission and grow the Renewal Mill brand.

{Claire}: I co-founded Boston’s first organic juice company in 2012 and it was in that role that I experienced food waste first-hand. Each day would end with mountains of fresh fruit and vegetable pulp for which we had no good use. It was painful to see all that nutrition going to waste along with all of the resources that had been used to grow the food. Not long after I left the juice company, I met the owner of a tofu factory and we bonded over byproducts. It turns out, he was facing a similar challenge but at a much greater scale. The process of making soymilk (the precursor to tofu) generates an enormous amount of soybean pulp, okara, that is full of fiber and protein. Without a market for this raw material, it had been headed into waste streams. Immediately, we knew there had to be a way to save the okara and help craft a more circular economy of food.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in establishing and building your business?
{Claire}: Each new day brings a fresh set of challenges. We are constantly problem-solving and brainstorming! Overall, one of the biggest challenges is time allocation. It is a daily exercise to prioritize activities for the day. Along with this is learning to say no when something isn’t a good fit at the moment or isn’t critical to our growth plan. Caroline and I are bright-eyed optimists that see potential everywhere so it definitely has taken time and practice to feel comfortable limiting where we spend our resources.

Where do you get your energy and drive to persevere?
{Caroline}: Everyone agrees that food waste is a silly problem. There are a lot of problems that we as individuals can’t have any control over, but food waste is not one of them. I’m inspired by the fact that food waste is a solvable problem and that our work at Renewal Mill is inspiring consumers to take a hands-on approach to food waste reduction as a climate solution. When people realize that reducing food waste can be a delicious endeavor, that’s when the real magic happens. I get energy from innovating new products and helping our customers bring creativity and joy back to their kitchens and the food system at large.

{Claire}: I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to work daily on a project that I love with a mission that I believe in. After being diagnosed with cancer in my early 20s, I decided to be as intentional as possible with my time. That experience provided an opportunity to reflect on choices we make and how those choices impact our bodies and the planet. Coming out of cancer treatment, I was eager to work on problems at the intersection of sustainability and our food system. Also, though it sounds a bit cliche, I’m also motivated by my two young sons. Growing a successful business shouldn’t just be about making money; it should also be solving problems that can help leave the world a better (or at least the same!) place for the next generation.

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?
{Caroline}: There have been some huge wins for upcycling in the last quarter of 2023. The EPA added upcycling as a “most preferred solution” to its updated “Wasted Food Scale,” previously replacing the Food Recovery Hierarchy. The Upcycled Food Association championed the NO TIME TO WASTE Act and got it added to the 2023 Farm Bill. And, the EPA, FDA, and USDA released the first-ever National Strategy to Reduce Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics. Upcycling has just crested the hill of consumer awareness, and I’m excited to see more federal dollars go to upcycled food solutions in 2024 and for the industry at large to make significant progress towards the goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. At Renewal Mill, we’re in the process of reformulating our ready-to-eat cookies, so I can’t wait to see those hit the market in mid-2024. Stay tuned, more deliciousness headed your way soon!

{Claire}: 2024 feels like a year of growing up (glowing up?) for Renewal Mill. We have spent a few years working tirelessly to share our brand, story, and products. Now that we are nationwide at Whole Foods, in several hundred Safeway stores, and available on a number of other e-commerce platforms and independent grocery stores, we have the ability to step back, hone our messaging, and be more strategic in pursuing growth opportunities. I’m very excited and grateful to have reached this stage with our company. I also continue to be delighted by the overall growth and awareness of upcycled foods. As the upcycled foods star continues to rise in 2024, we are excited to be leading the movement and helping introduce the concept (along with delicious products) to folks.

How can the Furthermore Ventures community best support Renewal Mill?
{Caroline}: For 2024, Renewal Mill is hyper focusing on consumer awareness, and we need your help! We’d love the Furthermore Ventures community to help us get the word of mouth flywheel going. Need a dessert for a friend’s potluck? Why not choose Renewal Mill? Your friend’s daughter was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and she doesn’t want to miss out on delicious products, tell her about Renewal Mill! We’re going to be hosting a number of consumer-facing roadshows at Whole Foods Markets across the country where customers can decorate their own cookies and learn more about upcycled food. With your help, we can continue to change the narrative on wasted food, create more impact, and celebrate the joy of great food!

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