Darling Ingredients makes what’s old new again

Kelly Dawson
May 9, 2018
10 min read
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Darling Ingredients is part of our Zero Waste portfolio.

  • More than half of all produce that’s purchased ends up in the garbage
  • Darling Ingredients is a business based in Irving, Texas that accepts waste in various forms and converts it into products we can use
  • Darling Ingredients has a net income of $128 million last year and is the biggest publicly-traded company of its kind in the world

At this point in the sustainability conversation, you’re probably more educated on the overall themes than you think. Terms like organic and wild-caught have been circulating supermarkets for some time now, and most of us have sat in a restaurant that promotes a laudable farm-to-table menu more times than one. We know that it’s a good idea to recycle, and we understand that every small action toward safeguarding the environment adds up.

And yet, as much as Americans have jumped on the tree-hugger train in many ways — a recent study found that a record $47 billion was spent on organic food and products last year — there is still a facet of this field where we could improve: waste.

According to a story in the Atlantic, Americans clog landfills with food waste more than anything else, and more than half of all produce that’s purchased ends up not on plates but in the garbage. “For an American family of four, the average value of discarded produce is nearly $1,600 annually,” journalist Adam Chandler found.

Clearly that’s not good, and there are lots of contributing factors behind this cultural habit. While we can do things individually to help curb this trend, there is one company who is addressing it in larger terms. Darling Ingredients is a multi-faceted business based in Irving, Texas that accepts waste in various forms and converts it into products we can use once again. For instance, it takes animal by-products and turns it into pet foods, just as it converts industrial residuals into fertilizer for gardens. Its cyclical, enterprising operation has been in the works for a century, and its catalog of 200 processing plants keeps the gears running on five continents.

In all, the company is separated into three distinct “ingredients” — food, fuel, and feed — with each responsible for repurposing materials that would otherwise end up in the trash. This system made Darling Ingredients a net income of $128 million last year, and a leader in the production and sale of repurposed natural ingredients. Darling Ingredients can say that it is the biggest publicly-traded company of its kind in the world.

What Darling does is an aspect of sustainability that isn’t as picturesque as a vibrant farm-to-table meal, but considering how often those ingredients are thrown out anyway, perhaps the company’s simple goal is more worthwhile for a brighter future.

Planting the seed

So from Darling’s standpoint, what does it mean to take trash and turn it into treasure? Well, for starters, it means casting a wide net to catch all of that runoff. Those aforementioned plants and their 10,000 employees can’t work without insight into a range of equally productive industries, so Darling Ingredients is the parent company of 16 different brands that collect on its behalf.

Currently, Darling Ingredients works with other businesses involved with bio-energy, fuel, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer, as well as those in the food service, pet food, and feed production fields. This process of collection amounts to tons and tons of discarded goods — think used cooking oil, leftover baked goods, and all the parts of an animal you don’t want to eat — which are then sorted, cleaned, and converted into ingredients that could then be sold back to other companies for more sales.

Let’s study one of its most recognizable brands, Sonac, to get a better idea of how this all goes down. Sonac takes the raw materials leftover from meat processing companies that still want to make a profit on the items that are more difficult to sell: the bones, skins, fats, and blood generated by chickens, pigs, cows, and fish. Sonac then creates various production lines around these proteins that’ll reconstruct them into other items. There’s the protein that’ll be transformed into a meat emulsifier, and another that’ll be made into a natural coloring agent. They can also be used to enrich other meats with nutrients, like calcium, or become part of pet foods, chicken feed, fertilizer, and sausage casings. Lastly, Sonac also repurposes fats into things like sauces, breads, soups, and margarine, which can then end up on grocery aisles.

Sure, you’re not alone in raising an eyebrow or two about all of this. Like we said before, it’s not the most glamorous process. But think of it this way: Everything Sonac does is accomplished using sustainable practices, and it re-purposes items into natural, allergen, and GMO-free ingredients. And like every other brand under Darling’s umbrella — from the ones that convert hides, and waste solids, and yellow grease — it can claim that it improves other companies’ environmental impact by not letting these items go to waste.

Darling Ingredients says that it’s part of the “original recycling” movement, and these practices are what makes that true. It’s helping an entire network of companies stick to an environmentally-friendly practice, all while everyone can make a profit.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Americans have some changes to make in order to get behind this philosophy. We like our Instagram-ready farmer’s market produce and sticking by our “sell by” dates, and all of those little concerns contribute to how much we waste. Some of these issues have been addressed on a governmental level, and other businesses are making a point of repurposing their products before tossing them in the trash, too. In fact, there are even social media chefs who have taken on the topic themselves.

But in the meantime, Darling Ingredients is advancing a process it perfected over the course of the last 100 years: figuring out ways to use every last scrap of an item for almost every living thing on the planet. It is building more plants, figuring out other recycling ideas, and spreading its message to more companies.

“Our model is proven and effective, and will continue to ignite our strategy to be the recognized global leader in the production, development, and marketing of sustainable protein and nutrient-derived food, feed, and fuel ingredients for a growing population,” CEO Randall Stuewe said in his 2016 annual report.

After all, everything needs food, and the Earth can only supply so much of it. That’s why Darling Ingredients is doing right by the world’s resources and pledging to use them as efficiently and effectively as possible.

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