Food waste is a massive global problem. In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, right after the USA and China (FAO). This food loss and waste happens at all stages of the food system. We often hear about food going to waste in our homes or being lost at the farmer’s level. But little is spoken about the food that is lost at the trader and buyer level.

Much of the food we eat is grown, harvested, and then transported to warehouses where it is sorted, packed, and stored until it can be sold and transported to the final destination.  Traders buy produce in bulk from all over the world, and then they sell this produce to supermarkets, retailers, and wholesalers. If there are disruptions in this system or if food cannot be sold fast enough, it goes off and is thrown out. This has negative consequences for all of us: the farmers who grew that food don’t get paid, the traders lose profit, and all of the resources that went into growing the food – including the precious water and energy resources – are wasted too. What if we could ensure all food is sold at the right time, at the right place, and to the right people?

Meet Invisible Foods, our 2021 TFF Finalist from the Netherlands and Germany. They have made preventing food loss their mission. With their AI-powered quality control system and an automated dashboard that are deployed in a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, they are helping food traders optimize their storage and supply chains so that food processing companies and restaurants find the raw materials they need.

AI for quality control and a dashboard for tracking 👨‍💻

To reduce food waste effectively, Invisible Foods is developing several technical components that all combine into one seamless product. The main features are:

  • A digitized quality control and analytics system that identifies food that will rot in the near future; 
  • A marketplace to match products of various quality levels with buyers who can use that specific quality;
  • Certification to be validated by FeedUP@UN, and tracking so companies can confidently and reliably communicate how much produce they have saved.

The quality control system starts with Invisible Foods’ image recognition technology. In warehouses used by traders, digital cameras are used to capture images of fruits and vegetables during Quality Control. The imaging software then determines what the item is, whether it has esthetical and/or biological damages and how many more days it has before it rots. This data is visualized on an easy-to-use dashboard. Traders can use this to track what is in the warehouse and sell the produce to the right buyers before it is too late. 

The traders can also use the digital marketplace to sell the produce in an efficient way. This is especially relevant for fruit that is close to its final ripening stage, as different buyers may be needed. The freshest produce for example will be sold to supermarkets, but less fresh fruit can still find uses elsewhere, where it can be processed or used immediately. 

These two functionalities are currently being built and will be trialled in pilots in Germany and the Netherlands, including a marketplace pilot with one of the largest fast food retailers in the world. The team is starting with fresh fruits like mango, and will then expand to other fresh produce.

Verifying CO2 emissions reductions 🌎

With the urgency of climate change, Invisible Foods also is also set on making a big impact on CO2 emissions. Through their dashboards, Invisible Foods is able to have a real time overview of where food was saved. This means that there is a traceable, verifiable record of food waste, the efforts to prevent it, and CO2 savings. This data can be used for labeling of products, including certification, but also can be relevant for large datasets like food waste data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). 

“Through Invisible Foods we can actually upload the data and for the first time we would have a global measurement of food waste happening in real time.” – Neville

A virtual team with a strong mission 🎯

Invisible Foods was launched during Covid. Neville, co-founder and CEO, was a trader in The Hague in the Netherlands dealing on the daily with fresh fruit and vegetables. When Covid hit,  the resulting disruption caused him to dump 100 tonnes of avocados. Worse, he had to tell the 5000 small-scale farmers who produced these fruits that they weren’t getting paid. Having grown up on a farm, and seeing firsthand the struggles his father endured day in and day out to produce food that could simply be thrown away like this was something he could not accept. This was his a-ha moment of realising he wanted to create a new system where food waste was a thing of the past. 

He was introduced to his co-founders Helena and Jonas virtually. They all live in different cities scattered across the Netherlands and Germany and have never met all together in person. But, in true next-gen style, that hasn’t stopped them from plowing forward. They navigate working in a fully remote team naturally and adopt creative, bootstrap approaches to make things happen quickly. 

With a strong background in building software, Jonas has designed many digital products from scratch. After his son was born, he was ready to put his efforts into something with a strong social mission and so he joined Invisible Foods. Helena, like Neville, has close connections to farming. She has many memories of her grandparent’s farm in Germany, where she helped turn fruits and vegetables into jams, juices and bakes to help preserve them for longer. She instantly bonded with Neville and Jonas and so with a combined passion, they started brainstorming. Invisible Foods was born.

What’s next?

The team is already helping save produce from going to waste and has multiple pilots where they are finding new homes for foods that are close to their final use-by date. They are growing their database of market players and also training their image recognition algorithms to include as many fruits as possible.

TFF is working with Invisible Foods to help them with their business model, their route-to-market, and their fundraising strategy. We are also introducing them to relevant contacts and helping them build the roadmap for the next few years.

If you want to find out more about Invisible Foods, partner with them, meet the team, or be added to their database of potential buyers, please reach out to Marie at marie@thoughtforfood.org.

Hear them pitch at the TFF Summit!

LIVE on October 2nd