In this post-Thanksgiving NothingWasted! podcast, we chat food waste solutions with Aidan Mouat, CEO of Hazel Technologies. We spoke with Mouat about leveraging biochemistry to help tackle the problem of food waste, the importance of working within existing systems, scaling a startup and more.
Hazel Tech is a USDA-funded agricultural technology company with the mission of reducing food waste and increasing the efficiency of our produce supply chain, specifically through shelf-life-enhancement. To help conserve Earth's precious resources, its multidisciplinary team is “innovating, researching, and developing new solutions in the agricultural and horticultural sciences.”
Here is a sneak peek into the discussion:
Waste360: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you found your way to Hazel?
Mouat: My background is largely in chemistry. I did my PhD at Northwestern...we started the company in with 2015, myself and the other co-founders from various other programs at Northwestern. I got a bit of a broader survey of challenges in sustainability in major world systems and kind of settled into a thesis at that time that, if you look at most world verticals — energy, transportation, medicine, commerce, etc. — we’ve had pretty disruptive changes to the normal course of business in those verticals over the past 30 years or so.
But if you look at agriculture, it’s a bit of a different story. It’s the largest business, by volume, on the planet; it’s the only business that touches every single person on the planet, every day of their lives. And we have a food system focused on overproduction, not efficiency — and we have a new frontier problem, and it’s food waste. So I got very interested in that issue. I got very interested in the idea that chemistry was how we transformed the food supply the first time — and saw that there might be an opportunity to leverage a cleaner and more sustainable category of biochemistry to try to harness the efficiency side of that equation — and that was really the genesis of the idea behind Hazel Technologies.
Waste360: Please tell us more about the main idea behind Hazel.
Mouat: It’s adding a new layer of technology to the supply chain, where we could utilize that to control shelf life of perishable food. So we have this non-contact, non-invasive, highly sustainable and scalable system that allows us to target specific challenges in perishable-food shelf life by mitigating the biochemistry of the atmosphere around that food. In doing so, we target spoilage waste and aim to bring us to a zero-waste food system.
Waste360: Can you talk more about how that works?
Mouat: It was critical to create a solution that didn’t require a reconfiguration of existing food chain systems. And we were passionate about ensuring that our solution could take root in as many places as possible without requiring them to invest in fancier engineering and more equipment and so forth. In essence, we wanted a simpler solution to the problem. One of our more popular products is what we call an in-box sachet, about the size of a sugar packet, and that little packet can treat a case of crops weighing up to 50-60 pounds. When it’s placed in the box, it begins to slowly emit an active ingredient into the atmosphere — in this case, an ethylene inhibitor; ethylene is an aging hormone that ultimately leads to loss of quality, spoilage, and microbial activity. But with the packet, we can arrest those processes and extend shelf life. And we are functionalizing existing spaces—boxes, containers, warehouses, etc. — rather than requiring our customers to buy new spaces to utilize the technology.
Waste360: Do you see potential applications for this to be used with other fresh foods like meat and fish?
Mouat: Yea absolutely, that’s really the next frontier for us. The next logical step is cut protein, and there’s a microbial challenge [there], so if we can overcome that, we can extend best-by dates by four-to-six days. We ultimately have an interest in all categories of perishable food.
Listen to the full epsiode at the top of this page or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Read the transcript here.