By Kiersten Tomson
There are few things worse than coming home from the grocery store to find your strawberries are squishy, the blueberries are bad or the apples taste awful.
It’s a #firstworldproblem, but in 2017, many of us expect produce to be top notch, especially when you are paying top dollar.
Enter Hazel Technologies.
This Chicago based startup creates special technology to extend the quality shelf life of produce – so we throw away less and eat more fresh fruits and veggies.
30% of the food grown is never actually eaten and this food waste costs us all money, from the farm to your fork.
“These produce growers have their own brand and a lot of times, when they ship their produce, and it doesn’t have the best quality, they feel the pain,” explains Pat Flynn, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Hazel Technologies. “These companies are looking for solutions to ensure that when the product is on the retail shelf it has the highest potential quality. That is our opportunity.”
Hazel Technologies has created special inserts – it looks like a sugar packet – which activate once placed into produce boxes. The technology – called Fruit Brite and Berry Brite – emits a special blend of ingredients to keep produce fresh and tasty for days, even weeks.
“The packaging inserts that go in the large-scale boxes could go from California, to a Walmart on the East coast or a Publix down in FL or a lot of times, where it will be going is international, so on a shipping container to Shanghai,” says Flynn.
Hazel Technologies got its start in 2015 through the accelerator program at Northwestern University, NUvention.
All of the founding members, including Flynn, were Northwestern students who built the company from the ground up and it’s only taken off from there.
“To give you an idea of the scope of the customers we are working with, these guys are farming melons and lemons,” explains Flynn. “They have about over 14 thousand football fields of land that they are operating, so this is a really big operation and these are the kind of customers we are signing up.”
And we all know that cash doesn’t grow on trees, but it sort of does in California.
“California is the 800-pound gorilla in the room as far as specialty crop production in the United States so over 95% of a variety of different fruits and vegetables are grown there,” adds Flynn.
But even California has its low periods, which is when the international farmers pick up the pace, like Mexico, Chile and Central America.
And that’s the future goal of Hazel Technologies – bring their products and services across the globe.
“We’re funded by the USDA and we’re very proud of that,” adds Flynn. “There’s not a lot of companies that have the endorsement of the USDA in the ag-tech, so that’s really been crucial to our market acceptance.”
— AgFunder (@AgFunder) March 7, 2017
Right now, Hazel Technologies is producing right in its lab/office space at the University Technology Park at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which is full of other life sciences and clean energy start-ups.
Flynn credits Chicago’s higher education for the uptick in these companies.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the universities,” Flynn says. “There’s just a lot of idea integration and young people that have ambition and interest in tackling large problems, so when you get that, it becomes a breeding ground for some of these companies.”