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GroundUp Eco-Ventures: turning beverage industry waste into high-quality food

Over the last decade or so, consumers have generally become much more conscious about which kinds of waste we send to the landfill and what gets reused, recycled, or, increasingly, upcycled. The compost bin has become a guilt-free spot to park coffee grounds and other food waste, but it turns out that there may be an even more efficient destination for those used coffee beans.

Shawn Leggett, the President and founder GroundUp Eco-Ventures, a start-up based in Okotoks, turns used coffee into cosmetics and flour — the kind of flour you can bake with. To bolster his company, he’s doing the same with the spent barley that comes from Alberta’s ever-booming craft beer industry.

Leggett’s career started in the oil and gas industry, in which he worked for over two decades before deciding he wanted to try something new. After some extensive research, he saw a strong future in the world of upcycling — that is, taking something that other people might see as garbage and turning it into new, useful products. He saw plenty of room in the Alberta market to launch a local venture and two years ago, GroundUp was officially born.

“In about 2018 I started researching circular economies and upcycling,” Leggett says. “I thought it was such a great idea and saw a lot of things happening globally, but not much happening regionally. I just like the positivity of everything that we do.”

Other upcyling companies around the world are doing everything from turning plastics into shoes to making toothbrushes from old yogurt containers, but Leggett wanted to do something a little bit different by using organic matter — namely, coffee and brewery by-products. and was interested in the skin care properties of coffee oil. As it turns out, those coffee grounds left after you’ve brewed a pot are full of extraordinary oils full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Leggett liked the idea of making coffee-oil rich beauty products, but even after the oil was extracted, there was still plenty of matter left and he wanted to go as close to zero-waste as possible. Milling the leftover grounds into flour seemed like the best way to turn them into a viable product.

GroundUp makes two different flour products: one with the coffee post oil-extraction and another from spent breweries grains (Leggett calls them “saved grains”), a by-product that Alberta has in abundance and is most commonly repurposed as livestock feed. The brewer’s grain flour is likely a more familiar product to most people. GroundUp sticks to a barley-based mash that come with a natural pre-loaded nutritional content after the brewing process.

“Brewing beer makes barley better,” Leggett says. “The brewers pull out the sugar and starches and the percentage of all the good stuff in the grain goes up. You end up with a flour that's full of dietary fibre and protein, sugar-free, and with higher levels of iron, prebiotics, and antioxidants.”

The coffee flour, made from grounds sourced from a local cold brew company, is a more unusual product, though it’s one that is gaining traction in health food circles. That flour is also high in protein and fibre, with a boost of potassium. The flour doesn’t taste like coffee per se, but has a faint nutty and chocolatey flavour. Since the coffee flour is a new concept for most people, Leggett recognizes there’s a barrier in that many potential customers will have no idea what to do with it. The nutritional value means it’s a good addition to a smoothie or yogurt bowl, but it can also be used for baking in tandem with the saved grain flour or more traditional flour. To help customers get the hang of the alternative flours, GroundUp also makes a packaged brownie mix that utilizes both the coffee and saved grain flours and a pancake flour with the saved grain flour. More pre-mixed products are on the way.

“The flours are very functional,” Leggett says. “Obviously, the grain flour more than the coffee flour. You can start having four to five grams of protein and eight grams of fibre in something like a chocolate chip cookie. It’s about making your guilty pleasures less guilty.”

The other surprising thing about GroundUp’s products is that they’re all moderately priced, giving people a chance to try these new flours without making a substantial investment. Single kilogram bags of flour are priced at around the $10 mark and are available through the GroundUp website, Calgary Co-Op, Safeway, Sobey's, and Community Natural Foods stores, with more retailers expected to come on line in the coming months.

Leggett is excited about what’s to come and already has ideas for developing technology to transform other so-called waste into food and beauty products. Leggett has his eye on developing oils and products made from avocado seeds and other products that typically end up in the trash. As far as he can see it, the sky’s the limit.

“I was looking for something unique and cool and I just started falling in love with the principles of upcycling,” he says. “Now I can't look at anything without thinking ‘What can I do with that?’”

For more information on GroundUp Eco-Ventures or to order its products, visit


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