Banana bites made from up-cycled bananas. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for OK! Magazine)
In the United States alone, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2017. Food loss occurs for many reasons, with some types of loss, such as spoilage, occurring at every stage of the production and supply chain. At the retail level, equipment malfunction such as faulty cold storage, over-ordering, and culling of blemished produce can result in food loss. Consumers also contribute to food loss when they buy or cook more than they need and choose to throw out the unused or leftover food.
A study in Minnesota found that up to 20 percent of fruits and vegetables are too large, small, or don’t otherwise meet cosmetic standards, and thus aren’t viable. The food that has made it past all of these stages is ready to be sold in a supermarket but 10 percent of it, or 43 billion pounds, will never make it off the shelf. For produce, about 12% of fruit and 11.5% of vegetables are never sold after making it to the grocery store. All of this inefficiency provides some real opportunities to the food industry minded entrepreneur.
Here are seven low hanging fruit opportunities in the industry of food:
Plant based alternatives: Plant based food is rising rapidly as evidenced by the rapid growth of several brands like Beyond Meat whose recent IPO has surpassed all expectations. Look for the rise of several other product categories like yogurt, eggs, cheese and perhaps even products you never even thought of being produced from plants. Quite a few of these new food types can come from imperfect fruits and vegetables that may not pass the cosmetic test but certainly have the vital nutrients.
Up-cycled snacks: Those apples that were picked too early, picked too late or even hit the ground can all be repurposed into a new food type. Perhaps its apple chips, apple crisps, or some kind of apple based seasoning. Imagine what else could be made with up-cycled oranges, bananas, mangos, or even beets. Perhaps some of these fruits and vegetables can even make their way into a new brand of pet food.
New organic juices: A few years back before Pom Wonderful, no one was really drinking pomegranate juice. Well, what else are we wasting that could be an amazing juice or perhaps even a new type of soda? Health trends continue to drive our creativity around food and Gen Z will further accelerate that trend based on their beliefs about plant based food.
New types of sustainable products: If you consider how Millennials and Gen Z are driving sustainability and being kind to the planet, then you need to consider what kind of products could be made from with crop residue (corn stalks and wheat stems, etc.) as well as wasted food? Could we make next generation plastic, bowls, kitchen utensils, and even napkins out of food waste?
Sustainable packaging: The rise of ecommerce has created another problem, packaging. Amazon alone shipped over 5 billion packages in its Prime program in 2017! Forget the notion that all that packaging can just be recycled. It can’t and just isn’t. And think about the production and energy to create all that packaging. Several countries are now starting to outlaw Styrofoam as it takes more than 500 years and beyond to biodegrade. Could next generation packaging entrepreneurs make better packaging material from food waste and plants that is also earth friendly and biodegradable?
Agri-tech to maximize yield: Farmers are trying to increase their crop yields while lowering their expenses. They need better drones, predictive analytics, field sensors, autonomous equipment and more. It’s seems crazy that in some parts of the world we waste food while other parts of the world have people starving. Next generation technology could help the food industry tremendously.
Predictive analytics in the supply chain and grocery stores: If auto manufacturers were wasting 40% of vehicles in the manufacturing process, they would address the problems immediately. In the food industry, could we better use predictive analytics to tell farmers what to grow based on weather, consumption, trends, sales data and regional nuances? Could we provide next generation analytics to the retail store managers to order food in a smarter way so as not to waste 15-20% of their fruits and vegetables?
It almost seems impossible that food waste in the USA alone is around $160 billion per year. Put your creativity hat on and see what is being wasted and if that can be turned into something that customers need.