Circular Economy of Food Challenge SPECIAL MENTION

Kaffe Bueno

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Kaffe Bueno ApS

Søborg, Denmark

Kaffe Bueno uses green chemistry and biotechnology to upcycle spent coffee grounds into active and functional ingredients for cosmetics, nutraceuticals and functional foods.

About Kaffe Bueno

The world consumes over 9.89 billion kgs of coffee every year, and 30% of that happens in the EU. The most common factor people drink coffee is caffeine. However, a less commonly known fact is that when we make a cup of coffee, we are extracting less than 1% of coffee’s health-promoting compounds (antioxidants, essential fatty acids, melanoidins, diterpene esters, sugars, proteins, fibres, caffeine is less than 2% of coffee’s composition). The remaining 99% remain intact in the spent coffee grounds, aka coffee “waste”.

Ironically, the same compounds responsible for providing health benefits in coffee are the same responsible for it being so harmful to the environment. Yes, coffee heavily pollutes the environment. Usually, spent coffee grounds end up decomposing in landfills – resulting in methane emissions, methane is 28-36 times more harmful to the environment than CO2 according to the EPA – or incinerated, resulting in CO2 emissions. If we assume all the almost 10 bn kgs of coffee that go to waste end up in landfills or incinerated, the emissions emitted would be the equivalent to about 10 million cars every year!

Coming from one of the strongest coffee cultures worldwide – Colombia – the founders of Kaffe Bueno were aware of the underutilisation of coffee, and the huge business opportunity it represented. During their International Business studies in London, the team built a business plan and applied to the Startup Denmark scheme, sponsored by the Danish Business Authority, which resulted in the founders being granted entrepreneurial residences in the country.

Kaffe Bueno started operations in February 2017 – initially selling coffee B2B, as a way to generate some revenue while we researched how we could extract all bioactive compounds within coffee. By July 2017, the Danish Innovation Fund granted Kaffe Bueno a grant to work with the Danish Technological Institute to optimise the oil extraction parameters. It resulted in the company’s first MVP, which today is Kaffe Bueno Oil® – an upcycled active ingredient for personal care products. After the oil has been extracted from the spent coffee grounds (SCG), the defatted coffee grounds are still full of health-promoting compounds, like insoluble dietary fibres and protein. Hence, it is sold, after further milling, as a gluten-free functional flour in the food industry, under the name Kaffe Bueno Flour®.

The products mentioned above are only a tease of what Kaffe Bueno has already been able to produce from SCG. The company; through government innovation grants, competition prizes and revenue; has been working on the green fractionation of individual molecules within the oil and the flour to further produce high-value ingredients for the WellCare market.

The Kaffe Bueno Q&A

How do circular economy of food principles help social entrepreneurs grow their businesses and meet their mandate?

“A circular economy for food mimics natural systems of regeneration so that waste does not exist, but is instead feedstock for another cycle.” – Ellen MacArthur Foundation

This pretty much sums up what circular economy of food means to us. Looking at food by-products as a resource to manufacture new products – could be food products, but also fashion, furniture, materials, or bioenergy.

The world consumes over 9.89 billion kgs of coffee every year, and 30% of that happens in the EU. The most common factor people drink coffee is caffeine. However, a less commonly known fact is that when we make a cup of coffee, we are extracting less than 1% of coffee’s health-promoting compounds (antioxidants, essential fatty acids, melanoidins, diterpene esters, sugars, proteins, fibres, caffeine is less than 2% of coffee’s composition). The remaining 99% remain intact in the spent coffee grounds, aka coffee “waste”.

Ironically, the same compounds responsible for providing health benefits in coffee are the same responsible for it being so harmful to the environment. Yes, coffee heavily pollutes the environment. Usually, spent coffee grounds end up decomposing in landfills – resulting in methane emissions, methane is 28-36 times more harmful to the environment than CO2 according to the EPA – or incinerated, resulting in CO2 emissions. If we assume all the almost 10 bn kgs of coffee that go to waste end up in landfills or incinerated, the emissions emitted would be the equivalent to about 10 million cars every year!

Our Kaffe Bueno Oil® is extracted from spent coffee grounds, and it is used as an ingredient to manufacture personal care products targeting anti-ageing, sun protection, wound healing and moisturising. On the other hand, Kaffe Bueno Flour® is practically a by-product of the oil extraction, yet because its acknolwedged nutritional value, it is used as an ingredient to make food products within bakery & confectionery, pizza & pasta, raw bars, protein bars, high-fibre bars, etc.

It is clear how our products fit into the circular economy principles; we are taking a biomass which is currently disposed as waste, SCG, adding value to it with our technology, and repurposing them into different industries as value-adding ingredients for products that aim to improve society’s health.

Probably taking that step of moving to Denmark, while none of us had ever been in the country before. That meant we knew absolutely no one (our university friends were all from Sweden, not Denmark) and couldn’t even pronounce our home address. We had to spend a lot of time building our network and overcome the Danes’ scepticism of 3 Colombian early-20’s business guys trying to build a biotech company.

We still deal with a lot of scepticism from different stakeholders. But this has been a key motivation point for us, proving everyone we can do it despite the odds. So far, we’ve accomplished enough to the point where we get approached by investors and clients that initially doubted us. We take it as a tap on the back to keep going…

By year 2050, the world population is expected to reach almost 10 billion. At the same time, consumers are increasingly demanding natural, organic, non GMO, free-from products. 

Not only because of their health advantages but also because these products are perceived as a way to protect the environment.

In our opinion, this is quite a contradictory notion, since:

    • – If 10 billion people are demanding more and more natural ingredients and products from a decaying nature, there will not be enough for all of us. 
    • – This is one of the reasons why natural ingredients come at premium prices, making it affordable only to the ones who can pay. 
    • – This is also quite ironic, because if we as companies are priding ourselves for working towards saving the world because of the nature of our ingredients, shouldn’t we make them accessible to everyone?

In a few words, we are increasing the accessibility to affordable, sustainable and healthy products to society.



Using food by-products as a resource is no easy task. 

Spent coffee grounds develop mould within hours of being used. Therefore, we developed a bio-preservation system to avoid this, and reduce the frequency at which they have to be collected before spoilage – hence, reducing logistic costs by 60%. 

However, there are a lot of regulatory barriers that hinder the pace at which we can innovate and penetrate the market. Food authorities are quite reluctant when we approach them with our ingredients. Since they come from what the estate classifies as “waste” it is a burden to deal with them, as very often they do not know what is the protocol to follow or simply reject the idea even after we provide all the scientific/analytical data we’ve gathered on the renewable source as well as the end products.

The necessity of high-tech makes our business model very capital intensive (CAPEX, OPEX), and because of the relative novelty of the circular economy, a lot of investors don’t buy into it since they come from the SaaS wave, where most of the capital needed goes to salaries and sales cycles, growth and ROI are a lot faster, though not necessarily bigger.

This is evident in the Nordic investment scene, where [the majority of] investors are very risk-averse and would rather wait until the concept works to then chip in. But if every investor thinks this way, the business won’t have the resources to make it work…

This applies to our private label projects – we make cosmetic private labels for hotels and offices we collect coffee from. We always look for circular packaging, but it is often very scarce, high MOQ’s and extremely high price/unit, forcing us to sometimes go for other alternatives.

Our products are price sensitive. However, thanks to our circular business model, our prices are also very competitive, and sensitiveness to it will play a bigger role in 2-3 years from now. 

Context: current coffee oils in the cosmetic industry are extracted from green or roasted beans, meaning high costs of manufacturing, low volume sales and very high prices (150-500 euros/kg). Thanks to our model and technology we can produce better quality (extraction process and raw material) of oil at substantially lower prices (49-100 euros/kg). 

Of course our oil competes not only with coffee oils, but with other vegetable oils like argan, rosehip, moringa, seabuckthorn, etc. These are sold closer to our price range, and after almost two years of market testing, we have confirmed that the fact that ours has a circular background, sets it at a very advantaged position when it comes to purchasing decisions.

We will feel we have succeeded when 

  • – we reach a point where we have been able to industrialise the green fractionation of spent coffee grounds at the most molecular level
  • – We have found, proven and commercialised all high-value applications of each of the molecules we extract from SCG.
  • – after the output produced from at least 10,000 tonnes of SCG per year is being sold to the point where we need to further expand.
  • – Being acquired by a key partner, like Givaudan, Nestle, Danone, Unilever, DSM, etc.

Team Members

Juan Medina

CEO and co-founder

Camilo Fernandez

CFO and co-founder

Alejandro Franco

CCO and co-founder