Thought For Food / FoodTBD

Circular Economy
of Food Challenge

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the Food initiative in June 2019, following the release of the Cities and Circular Economy for Food report at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Food initiative is partnering with pioneering industry players and three Flagship Cities — London, NYC, São Paulo — to mobilise the circular economy for food vision and trigger unstoppable momentum towards a regenerative and restorative food system fit for the future.

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WHAT CAN FOOD STARTUPS TEACH US about ways to transform our food system? To find out, Thought For Food (TFF), the world’s leading organization dedicated to empowering the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs in food and agriculture, partnered with FoodTBD’s Circular Economy of Food accelerator to launch the TFF / FoodTBD Circular Economy of Food Challenge to develop food system solutions that have a truly positive social and ecological impact, that go beyond sustainability and build a truly circular economy of food. The challenge was launched as a topical prize category within the 2019/20 TFF Challenge.

Participants were able to access the TFF Digital Labs  a startup acceleration and collaboration platform built for the next generation of purpose-driven innovators, where they gained knowledge, skills and mentorship. They interacted with experts from Applegate, Danone, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, HowGood, The Lexicon, Mars, MISTA and World Economic Forum. Teams were guided on how to integrate circular economy principles in all phases of a food product’s journey – from agricultural production to processing to packaging and beyond – into their food and agriculture projects, and were judged according to clearly-defined criteria.

What is the Circular Economy of Food?

In contrast to the current, linear, mechanistic and depletive food system we now have, the Circular Economy of Food proposes a more complex adaptive food system which is regenerative by design- through its positive ecosystem, social, and economic impacts. The Circular Economy of Food offers an alternative paradigm, an alternative future of abundance.

In a Circular Economy of Food, everything we eat and drink is designed using insights from living systems, which are inherently nonlinear, adaptive and regenerative. A key insight from natural living systems is “waste equals food,” which in a Circular Economy of Food is achieved by designing food fit to circulate as biological nutrients, to cascade and re-enter any bio cycle safely and entirely (using insights like benign chemistry). The continuous, positive development cycle preserves and enhances natural and social capital, ensuring the systems regenerative nature.

THE CHALLENGE INCLUDED MORE THAN 5200 PARTICIPANTS from 175 countries, demonstrating the commitment of the next generations towards purpose-driven, impact-focused innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Out of those, fifteen companies were shortlisted, based on their consideration for adopting circular economy principles across every aspect of their businesses. Feitosa Foodtech (Brazil) was selected as the winning team, with Tiger House (Ghana) and Kua Coffee (Australia) earning special mentions. The remaining shortlisted teams are Agricycle Global (USA), Kaffe Bueno (Denmark), and Liv Up (Brazil).


The TFF/FoodTBD Challenge winners will receive fully-funded participation in the TFF Academy and TFF Summit events; 3-month incubation by MISTA, the San Francisco-based innovation platform for the food industry; one-on-one mentorship from experts from Danone, Mars, and Givaudan.

The 2020 TFF / FoodTBD Circular Economy of Food Winners




Condiments from surplus organic bananas and peel grown using an agroforestry approach

Runner Up



Drinks, food and household products produced using all parts of the tiger nut

Runner Up



World positive coffee project that empowers smallholders, plants trees, and repurposes coffee grounds

Special Mention



Agricycle is a portfolio of upcycled CPG brands dedicated to empowering vulnerable populations through designing appropriate technology that requires zero-electricity and creating market-based solutions

Special Mention



Food, cosmetics, and nutraceuticals ingredients from upcycled coffee

Special Mention



Connecting consumers to farmers and shortening the supply chain by selling meal kits using organic ingredients

How do you judge circularity?

OUR PANEL OF CIRCULAR ECONOMY AND SYSTEM EXPERTS share the conviction that innovation and experimentation by next-gen entrepreneurs will play a vital role in rethinking the future of food as a force for good. Leaders from a broad range of organizations—ranging from not-for-profits to startups and scaleups, as well as big tech and big CPG—shared key insights and expertise and contributed greatly to the selection process. Most importantly, the panel strove to maximize the chances of success for these challenge participants by generously sharing their own entrepreneurial experiences, technical knowledge and insights on the very concept of the Circular Economy. After the shortlisted teams were selected, each were offered additional mentoring support from our panel of experts to help further their circular efforts.

The teams were judged by the panel on the level of Circular Economy principles that were embedded in their submissions, including their business models and innovations. They were awarded points based on the following metrics: holistic (encompasses every part of the product lifecycle); iconic (a scalable idea that stands out) and measurable (track impact). Some teams stood out as having perfected the positive social impact principle by generating improved livelihoods across entire communities; other teams demonstrated exemplary ecosystem impact by designing out the very construct of waste from the products they created. The winning and shortlisted teams were appreciated and highlighted because they managed to bring to life the systemic notion of the Circular Economy of Food through a synergistic interplay between their social and ecological impact.

Emma Chow

Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation Food initiative

Ethan Soloviev

Chief Innovation Officer

Mike Werner

Lead for Circular Economy

Gina Asoudegan

Vice President Mission and Innovation

Wesley Wilson

Head of Agriculture, Food & Beverage

Marc Oshima

Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer

Scott May

VP Innovation and Head of MISTA

Jeff Anderson


Jennifer Hebets

Business Development and External Innovation Manager

Wendy Lu McGill

Founder & CEO

Greg Shewmaker


Christine Gould

Founder & CEO

Merijn Dols

Director of Open Innovation & Circular Economy for Food

Circular Economy of Food Accelerator

This accelerator builds coalitions that rapidly iterate on ideas and solutions to our food systems’ greatest challenges. This highly collaborative model fosters innovation between companies, farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, NGOs and food system experts. Participants prototype and release their ideas for change every six months. Current focus areas include single-use plastics and packaging, food choices and climate change, food is medicine, agrobiodiversity, the circular economy of food, and regenerative agriculture. Learn more about the accelerator’s work here.

Thought For Food (TFF) is the world’s next-generation innovation engine for food and agriculture. They work with more than 20,000 next-generation leaders from over 175 countries, a community that is powered by 14 Regional Coordinators and 400 Ambassadors. The TFF Challenge, an annual collaborative innovation prize competition, and the TFF Digital Labs, a digital startup accelerator and collaboration platform, empower young innovators in all parts of the world to generate and scale breakthrough business ventures that build sustainable, inclusive, and resilient food systems. TFF’s innovation programs also include the in-person TFF Academy and flagship global event, the TFF Summit.