What to do with all that waste? From grapes to beauty products

    TUNISIA – Grapes, the jewels of the vineyards, yield at global level approximately 74 million tons of wine each year. Yet, alongside the production of wine comes a significant by-product: pomace — a mix of peels, seeds, and stems. Typically, this pomace meets one of two fates: animal feed or open-air fertilizer at best. However, recent research reveals a hidden treasure trove within this waste. Bursting with bioactive substances like antioxidants, pomace possesses benefits ranging from anti-aging to anti-cancer properties. The ENI CBC BESTMEDGRAPE project, spanning the Mediterranean from north to south, capitalizes on this untapped resource, blending knowledge, tradition, and innovation to empower both the grape sector and creative entrepreneurs.

    The Mediterranean, home to 40% of the world’s vineyards, faces a challenge as formidable as its legacy: waste management.  About 1.17 kg of grapes go into a standard bottle of wine, and after the squeezing, about 20% of that weight remains as leftover pomace. Despite its sheer volume, grape waste often ends up overlooked, contributing to environmental concerns exacerbated by climate change. The solution? Science. For years now the ENI CBC BESTMEDGRAPE project has been working to give new life to leftovers, pursuing a sustainable grape production that could avoid the environmental contamination from the huge quantity of bulky waste generated during winemaking. Boutheina Gharbi, the project manager, explains: “The industry throws a lot of waste, and we know now, through our research, that pomace is a very rich by-product appreciated by the dietary supplements and cosmetic industries.”

    Launched in 2019 with a budget of 3.3 million euros, BESTMEDGRAPE – implemented within the framework of ENI CBC Mediterranean Sea Basin programme – unites eight partners across five Med countries; France, Italy, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Jordan. Led by the University of Cagliari (Italy), partners aimed to infuse the region with innovation. Both in the laboratories of Sassari (Italy) and in the vineyards of Tunis (Tunisia), grape waste underwent a metamorphosis: its antioxidant/anti-inflammatory/anti-neurodegenerative properties were exploited, and new formulations emerged as nutritional supplement or beauty treasures. Ten new products and services were developed for commercialisation in the field of grape derivatives, and four co-publications were produced on the characterisation and extraction of native grape varieties.  “Thanks to this project – says Zouhour Behi, a Tunisian entrepreneur benefitting from the project activities – I discovered the scientific aspect of grapeseed oil, that it’s the strongest oil that can penetrate the deepest layer of the skin”. But BESTMEDGRAPE’s impact extends beyond scientific breakthroughs.

    From academia to industry, the project aimed to support the creation of new start-ups/SMEs, by nurturing a new generation of entrepreneurs through workshops and knowledge-sharing initiatives. From laboratories, the research was transferred to 150 entrepreneurs – 30 per country – through workshops called “living labs”. The pathway was two-sided: the scientific training on high quality cosmeceutical and nutraceutical products was accompanied by knowledge transfer, so that companies could also share their market know-how, and work on the development of commercial potential. It was a fruitful partnership between institutions, researchers, and entrepreneurs, all united to enhance the grape production chain.

    “The idea of diversifying partnerships – continues Boutheina – brought a lot of resilience and expertise, with knowledge sharing. One partner was mostly advanced in scientific research, while the other could bring invaluable experience in navigating complex socio-economic realities. This dynamic exchange has highly enriched the partnership.”  

    While reducing environmental pollution, project partners have been increasing employment opportunities and stimulating local economy across the Mediterranean.

    Out of the 150 trainees, 40 entrepreneurs were selected to set up their own business. From Beirut (Lebanon) to Bizerte (Tunisia), the project has boosted them on the Mediterranean market, where they can now offer innovative products crafted from grape waste. Moreover, one cross-border technology platform was developed to support business networking on grape waste exploitation.  “We’re now on the market – continues Zouhour – structured, with loyal customers. Thanks to this project we’ve developed our marketing strategy”. Next to Zouhour, Rafik Boukhris, also an entrepreneur, adds: “To enhance the presentation of our products, we’ve also crafted (wooden) packaging designs with a Tunisian touch for our Travel Gift line.”

    But BESTMEDGRAPE success is not measured solely in profits; the project is also about fostering resilience and empowerment. According to Gharbi, the project aims to make the Mediterranean area not only more innovative and competitive, but also inclusive.

    Amal Trabelsi joined the training as university student and is now the co-founder of “Vitofera” — a brand specialising in grape seed oil. Amal’s journey embodies BESTMEDGRAPE’s transformative power, turning dreams into reality: “I am a nutritionist, I met the other girls who are now my partners, during the training. They are engineers and we realised that our expertise was quite complementary. After attending the laboratories, we decided to create our own brand “Vitofera” and to open a small business together. We produce grape seed oil: it’s rich in antioxidants, it moisturises the skin, it’s very good for the hair, the face, and the whole body.  Now we must find a market, but I am confident that we will”.

    From the laboratories to the vineyards, from entrepreneurs to consumers, BESTMEDGRAPE leaves a strong mark, transforming waste into wonder and proving that, in the Mediterranean, innovation knows no bounds. “Out of this waste – concludes Boutheina Gharbi – we’ve managed to produce serum, seed oil, cleansing gels, and a variety of multi-purpose oils. These products were brought to life by wonderful entrepreneurs who started as trainees in the project’s beginnings. We guided them in refining their ideas, and now we witness their successful commercialisation right before our eyes.”


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