NBC Bay Area’s Scott Budman visits Zest Labs and interviews CEO Peter Mehring for their January 10 news program. Peter discusses how new technologies and solutions – like Zest Fresh – can help improve the fresh food supply chain and be applied to ease food inspections during the government shutdown that’s impacting FDA inspections.
Having worked in Silicon Valley since the mid-1980s with companies such as Sun Microsystems and Apple, Peter Mehring has turned his attention toward using technology to reduce food spoilage, which can account for as much as 40 percent of the U.S. food supply. His company, Zest Labs, deploys sensors to track differences in food-freshness degradation rates. That data, in turn, is used to advise food distributors where to ship food optimally so that shipment time is best matched with real-world expiration dates.
“There’s been an evolution of temperature loggers from 10 or 15 years ago. Even if they started out as mechanical or chemical, they’ve always tested temperature in different environments, but they weren’t doing anything to manage the products,” explains Peter Mehring, CEO of Zest Labs. “If you just manage the trailer, there are obvious things you don’t see. You miss how the product is actually being handled and, therefore, you can’t make [good] decisions about the product.”
Zest Labs has been on the forefront of product- or pallet-level monitoring, using sensors to understand the attributes and monitor the conditions specific to the product rather than just the environment the product was placed in. The shift now is taking that a step further and asking, “What can I do now that I have this data?”
“Many things can impact shelf life,” says Kevin Payne, vice president of marketing at Zest Labs, a San Jose-based tech company trying to take the mystery out of produce shelf life. “But you can’t see those until the very end,” when 24 hours later, your picture-perfect ruby strawberries morph into camo-green fuzz balls. Zest Labs has “removed the randomness of food distribution,” says Dr. Jean-Pierre Emond, a co-founder of The Illuminate Group and an expert on the cold chain. “For each pallet coming in, they now know exactly what to do with it.” Zest Labs technology is enabling growers and retailers, who have never had this type of data, to profit more and decrease food waste.
Forty percent. That’s how much food America wastes from farm to fork, according to the National Resource Defense Council. It’s analogous to going to the grocery store, buying five bags of groceries, leaving two of them in the parking lot, and driving away. This decades-old food waste problem has environmental, social, and financial implications. Until now, technology has been ineffective at solving it. Before we talk about where IoT plays a role in all of this, let us discuss why new technology is necessary to address the problem.
Ocean Mist Farms is utilizing Zest Fresh to monitor the condition of product from the field through the processing plant, with the intention of helping to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency and optimize labor resources. Zest Fresh collects data using IoT sensors placed in each pallet at harvest and the data is autonomously collected at various processing waypoints to monitor cut-to-cool time, yard dwell times, pre-cool efficiency and cold storage.
Zest Labs reports that Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms is utilizing Zest Fresh to automate data collection on the condition of its produce. “Zest Fresh give us tremendous visibility and insight into our operations with specific process feedback to maximize product freshness,” Chris Drew, vice president of operations at Ocean Mist Farms, said in a news release. “With Zest Fresh, the continuous operational visibility ensures we’re always delivering the freshest product to our customers.”
In this episode of the Sustainability in Your Ear podcast, Earth911’s Evelyn Fielding-Lopez talks with Peter Mehring, co-founder and CEO of ZEST Labs. The San Jose, California-based company makes produce-tracking sensors that extend the shelf life of produce and meat. By monitoring the condition of food from the field to the store or restaurant, ZEST supports better decisions in the food supply chain. Learn how technology is being put to work to eliminate food waste that results in 40 percent of U.S.-grown food going unused.
Food waste is a worldwide problem that companies, labs, even parts of the government, are continually working to improve. Proper storing temperature is even an issue when products are traveling to retailers. “Most of the cause of waste occurs within the first 24 to 48 hours after product is harvested” said Kevin Payne of Zest Labs, “And it’s due to temperature implications.” Zest Labs is a freshness management system that works with analytics and artificial intelligence to determine the remaining shelf life of an item. It ensures that items being sold at the store have enough of a shelf life to last the few days until the product is eaten. They’ve partnered with popular grocery stores like Costco and Hy-Vee, along with many growers, to provide customers with the freshest ingredients. Their technology can reduce waste at the retail level by 50 percent or more.
Growers are turning to solutions such as Zest Labs to help them fill gaps that compound waste. The company uses analytics and internet of things sensors on fruit and vegetable pallets to help intelligently route food to retailers. Crops are analyzed for shelf life. Those that will last longer can be shipped farther across the U.S., while crops with shorter shelf lives are sent shorter distances.
A trial date has been set and discovery has begun in Zest Lab’s lawsuit against Walmart in federal court in Arkansas. The court’s scheduling order sets trial in the case for June 1, 2020 and includes a schedule for discovery.
If we were to pile all the food wasted globally on an annual basis — an estimated 1.6 billion tons — we’d need a plate that could accommodate 10 times the mass of Manhattan, according to an estimate by the Boston Consulting Group. By 2030, the amount could expand to 2.1 billion tons per year, in the absence of meaningful action. Waste occurs across the entire value chain and represents a $700 billion opportunity. Early solutions emerging to eliminate points of waste can be roughly organized into 13 areas, one of which is investing in data analytics to optimize supply chain processes. Keep your eyes on Zest Labs which sells a service that helps food distributors and other supply chain members manage produce freshness. In mid-July, it scored a partnership with Costco Wholesale, which is using the technology to monitor cross-country shipments.
The adoption of blockchain among growers and retailers is a positive development for all AgTech companies. It provides an opportunity for growers to embrace technology that can help organize their data and provide new insights for addressing pre- and post-harvest challenges. However, for the adoption of any technology to be successful, there must be proven value to the customer. If growers and retailers don’t benefit from a technology, such as blockchain, it likely won’t be embraced. Blockchain, like most technology, must deliver real value to all constituents – growers, shippers and retailers – to be successful. Read more….
As the perimeter of the grocery store outpaces growth in other food and beverage categories, food retailers looking for ways to drive more sales are focused on fresh. New IRI research shows that shoppers expect retailers to offer more fresh food than ever before, to educate them about the food, and to curb food waste, a growing movement in the food industry.
Whole Foods doesn’t look much different since Amazon bought it a year ago. To find the big changes, look at the rest of the grocery business. Incumbents like Kroger, Costco, and Target have taken aggressive steps, in store and online, to wall off Amazon. Costco has rolled out two-day home delivery for dry groceries, joined with Instacart on same-day delivery for fresh items, and partnered with startup Zest Labs to keep produce fresh as it travels through the supply chain.
The problem of waste has some invisible causes within the fresh food supply chain. In this day and age, why can’t this waste be prevented? The fact is this issue can be prevented, but because so much of the fresh food supply chain relies on outdated approaches to quality and freshness management, the problem persists.
Costco has created a bulwark against Amazon by keeping a lid on costs and using membership fees to offer better prices than competitors. Costco has been trying to strengthen its fresh foods, recently announcing a partnership with startup Zest Labs to make sure produce stays fresh longer.
Costco Wholesale, one of the largest retailers in the world, has partnered with California-based agtech company Zest Labs to enhance and improve their fresh food supply chain. The retailer will be utilizing Zest Labs’ Zest Fresh technology to manage and forecast the freshness of their produce products, which in turn could help them to reduce food waste and save money.
Silicon Valley start-up Zest Labs sued Walmart this week, claiming the company stole its original technology that keeps produce fresh while in transit. Zest CEO Peter Mehring discusses with Cheddar, a live streaming financial news network broadcasting live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.