Startup innovators are tackling the problem of food waste

One in three people in the labor force depend on agriculture and food production for their primary livelihood. However, a third of the food they produce does not make it to market due to losses in the supply chain. Those losses surpass the amount of food wasted in retail, food services, and households combined. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, about 50% of the fruits and vegetables produced at farms never make it to market for consumption. In Kenya alone, this results in more than $594M of post-harvest losses each year, directly diminishing farmers' incomes. They also lead to greater food insecurity; 32% of Kenyans face food insecurity or poor nutrition, and 25% of children under 5 years are stunted due to chronic malnutrition. Similarly, in Latin America, even though there are nearly 50M people who suffer from hunger, 15% of food is wasted each year, with losses occurring throughout the supply chain. Likewise, in Asia, up to 20% of food is lost or wasted in spite of the hundreds of millions of people living in hunger in the region.

That so much food is lost or wasted is even more troubling, knowing that over 828 million people (more than 10% of the population) were affected by hunger in 2021. Hundreds of millions of people would materially benefit from interventions to decrease food loss and waste.

The environment is also affected by food loss, which contributes roughly 10% of total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, primarily during decomposition, which generates methane, a GHG that is 25 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. If food waste were a country, it would rank third in terms of GHG emissions, just behind the United States and China. 

In all, food waste has a myriad of negative impacts: people who need food are not getting it, the food that is not getting consumed is heating up the planet, and the livelihoods of climate vulnerable farmers are impacted by both the lost income, as well as the wasted effort and inputs.

Startups are innovating tech-enabled solutions

Technological innovations are enabling these solutions to scale, better tracking, greater reach, and cost-effective infrastructure.

Mobile devices allow for the digitization of smallholder farmers’ data on their agricultural operations, which can then unlock access to credit as well as help optimize cultivation.
Both consumers and retailers are already comfortable with leveraging e-commerce for purchasing all sorts of goods, services, and other supplies, agriculture included. By setting up digital commerce channels, agritech startups focused on food loss can more efficiently create markets for food that would otherwise be wasted.
Carbon credits and the supporting carbon credit ecosystem (e.g. project developers, verification and MRV service providers, etc.) are an important innovation that is facilitating finance from emitters to such innovators who are ultimately offsetting large amounts of GHGs that would otherwise result from food waste.
Supporting infrastructure such as cold chain, particularly technologies that are suitable in off-grid environments, help to extend the shelf life of produce as they come to market. Catalyst Fund actually has a portfolio company in Nigeria that provides solar-powered cold storage solutions called ColdHubs.

Given the simultaneous issues of food waste and insecurity globally, we are encouraged to see innovators tackling these problems from various angles all around the world. We are proud to feature such a solution in our own portfolio; Farm to Feed, which is based in Kenya, is a startup that we invested in at the end of 2022 and (as of June 2023) are continuing to support through our bespoke venture building.

Country Name Details
USA Imperfect Foods Imperfect Foods is a SF-based, venture-backed startup that tackles food waste by rescuing imperfect produce and delivering it weekly directly to consumers via a subscription service. They saved 22K tons of food and prevented 20K tons of CO2eq in 2020. They were founded in 2015 and have since raised over USD229M up to Series D.
USA Full Harvest Full Harvest is a SF-based, venture-backed startup that has built a B2B marketplace for ugly and surplus produce, selling 50M pounds of produce as of 2022. They were also founded in 2015 and have since raised over USD39M up to Series B.
Mexico Perfekto Perfekto is a YC-backed startup that rescues food and delivers it B2C as a packaged box directly to consumers, offering up to 30% in savings. Per kilogram (KG) of rescued food, they prevent 180L of water from being wasted and 0.92KG of CO2eq from being emitted. They recently closed a pre-seed round of USD1.1M.
Brazil Food To Save Food to Save facilitates the sale of otherwise discarded food items in assorted packages of 3 different sizes, at an up to 70% discount to market prices through partnerships with various restaurants and F&B retailers. They raised their initial funding of BRL1.3M in less than 24 hours through crowdfunding platform, CapTable.
Ghana Agromyx Agromyx tackles food loss and waste, focusing on processing these produce into powders and other packaged goods which boast longer shelf lives, selling them B2C.
Kenya Farm to Feed A Catalyst Fund portfolio company in Kenya, Farm to Feed is a digitally-enabled platform focused on reducing food loss and waste, in turn reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing farmer incomes, and making nutritious food affordable to consumers. They do this by aggregating imperfect, rescue, and surplus produce from a network of thousands of smallholder farmers across Kenya and distributing it B2B to customers such as feeding programs, retail markets, and food processors at affordable prices. They are also currently in the process of unlocking carbon credits as an additional revenue stream.
India Wastelink Converts food surplus/rejects into animal feed in order to divert food waste from reaching landfills. To-date, they have sold over 4K tons of animal feed and prevented 5K of GHG emissions
Singapore Insectta Utilizes black soldier flies to process food waste into value added products in order to prevent it from reaching landfills. While they initially focused on converting the food waste into animal feed, they have since pivoted into higher value added ingredients: melanin and chitosan, which can be used as inputs in cosmetics and nutritional supplements. They recently raised about USD1M, primarily from local Singaporean investors.
Singapore UglyFoodCo Leverages cold trucks and an e-commerce site to deliver imperfect produce directly to consumers, preventing food waste. In Singapore alone, there was over 800K tonnes of food waste generated in 2021, which represents about 12% of total waste.
Indonesia Garda Pangan A  non-profit  that is tackling the issue of ~300KG of food waste per Indonesian citizen per year on average. So far they have rescued nearly half a million portions of food amounting to 113 tons and benefitting over 25K beneficiaries.

1.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World,” 2022

2.  World Wildlife Fund, “Driven to Waste: The Global Impact of Food Loss and Waste on Farms,” 2021

3.  Hawken, Paul, “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” 

4.  Biteye, Mamadou, “Announcing YieldWise: How the World Can Cut Food Waste and Loss by Half,” The Rockefeller Foundation, January 2016

5.  Mbatia, Anastasia, “UNFSS Independent Dialogue on Food Loss and Waste in Kenya,” Farm Africa, August 2021

6.  University of Pennsylvania, “Kenya: Agriculture,” African Studies Center

7.  Bradbury, Connor, “Two Nonprofits Tackle Hunger in Kenya,” The Borgen Project, January 2021

8.  UNICEF, “Kenya: Nutrition”

9.  Benitez, Raul, “Losses and food waste in Latin America and the Caribbean,” FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean”

10.  Chiu, Anthony, “Food Waste in Asia and the Pacific,” United Nations Centre for Regional Development, 14 March 2022

11.  “Agriculture and Food Security,” Asian Development Bank, accessed: May 26, 2023

12.  Hall, Christine, “Full Harvest targets food waste by finding homes for imperfect, surplus produce,” TechCrunch, December 17, 2021

13.  Hall, Christine, “Perfekto bags $1.1M to find homes for imperfect produce in Mexico,” TechCrunch, November 10, 2022

14.  “A Brazil-based startup that fights food waste, Food to Save raises BRL 1.3 million in less than 24 hours,” Latin America Business Stories, May 26, 2022

15.  Medhi, Trisha,”This Delhi startup is making food waste management sustainable through its food-to-feed conversion technology,” Your Story, March 17, 2022

16.  Watson, Elaine, “Meet the founder: Insectta’s Chua Kai-Ning taps black soldier flies for high-value functional ingredients,” AgFunder News, May 29, 2023

17.Tham, Davina, “‘Ugly’ food gaining acceptance in Singapore but more education needed, businesses say,” Channel News Asia, January 17, 2023

While food loss and wastage is an issue in both developed and developing countries, the root causes in each respective market may differ. For instance, in developing countries food loss tends to be unintentional in nature due to poor infrastructure, such as lack of refrigeration or storage facilities, problems that are exacerbated by hotter, more humid climates in the global south. In contrast, in developed countries, food waste tends to occur further along the supply chain, with retailers rejecting food due to cosmetic imperfections and/or sizes that are not up to par, or waste taking place in households. 

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