Commentary: Three ways startups are tackling food waste

For many people around the world, celebrating the holidays involves sharing food with family and friends. As we approach the holidays to celebrate the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, it occurred to me that it would be good to spend some time examining what startups are doing to try to solve the problem of food waste.

I have previously written about food loss and food waste in this column, on July 10 – Commentary: The challenges ahead for food supply chains and again, on November 14 – Commentary: Fighting food waste by mapping food supply chains.

On April 22, The New York Supply Chain Meetup (#TNYSCM) hosted: Reducing Food Waste in the Supply Chain (#TNYSCM13), featuring startups that are tackling food waste.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis. There are many more startups that I do not have space to highlight, and there are other approaches being researched, developed and implemented.

Selling produce that does not meet the aesthetic standards of food retail

The first approach is to buy produce that does not meet the aesthetic standards required by food retailers, and then sell such produce at a discount. This approach is being implemented by startups like Mistfits Market, Imperfect Foods, and Bad Apple Produce – that presented at #TNYSCM13. The business model such startups generally implement is a business-to-consumer or business-to-business ecommerce model.

Some of these startups have raised financing from venture capitalists. For example, according to Crunchbase, Full Harvest, another startup that is implementing this business model, has raised $11.5 million in three rounds since April 2017. The most recent round was an $8.5 million Series A in August 2018.

Turning food waste into new food and food-related products

The second approach involves turning food produce and by-products that would usually go to waste into new food, or food-related products that can serve as new inputs in the food supply chain. Three startups that fit this category presented during #TNYSCM13.

●     Rise rescues spent grain from breweries and refashions the spent grain into a high-quality super flour that has “12x fiber, 2x protein and 1/3 of the carbs compared to all-purpose flour.” I could not verify this from independent sources, but Rise says that each year, 42 million tons of brewery spent grain is discarded.

●     Rind Snacks turns over-ripe fruit and fruit peels into snacks that it sells to consumers. Rind claims that “Fruit rinds, on average, contain three to four times the fiber content compared to a serving of the flesh alone. Fiber not only makes a snack more satisfying, but high fiber diets are linked to less heart disease, improved gut health, lower cholesterol and lower obesity rates.”

●     Re-nuble develops plant nutrients and fertilizers from vegetable waste for use in soilless and hydroponic farming systems. Re-nuble says its “cost-competitive organic nutrients are comparable in price to mineral salts, while the only commercially used organic alternative is up to 69% more expensive.”

Monitoring data in the supply chain to optimize decision-making

The third approach involves gathering atmospheric data using bio-sensors. The data is processed, analyzed and conveyed to decision-makers who can take action based on the information at hand. This approach generally involves both hardware – in the form of sensors – and software. Some startups create proprietary hardware that is combined with advanced software. Others use off-the-shelf sensors and focus exclusively on developing advanced software. For fresh fruit and vegetables, some of these startups also make it possible for packers and distributors to slow down or speed up the maturation process by modifying the conditions in which produce is stored.

●     Strella Biotech develops bio-sensors that can predict the ripeness of fresh produce. The company is starting with the market for apples in the United States. Its sensors are installed in controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, helping distributors monitor the apples as they ripen. This helps minimize spoilage, by ensuring that packers and distributors know which batches of produce should be sold and delivered to retail first.

●     Telesense develops sensors that monitor stored grain for temperature and humidity. The suite of sensors and mobile apps provides alerts about the condition of stored produce.

Insights from the field

The activities of startups like these, as well as the work by researchers in academia and industry matters because, as Maria del Carmen Alamar, Natalia Falagán, Emel Aktas and Leon A. Terry put it in Minimising food waste: a call for multidisciplinary research: “Reducing food loss and waste is a more tractable problem than increasing production in the short- to medium-term, as its solution is not directly limited, for instance, by available land and water resources. Here we argue the need for a paradigm shift of current funding strategies and research programs that will encourage the development, implementation and translation of collective biological, engineering and management solutions to better preserve and utilize food.”

If you are a team working on innovations to minimize food waste and food loss, we’d love to tell your story in FreightWaves. I am easy to reach on LinkedIn and Twitter. Alternatively, you can reach out to any member of the editorial team at FreightWaves at