Can a little sachet the size of a sugar packet make a dent in the world’s crushing food waste problem? Aidan Mouat, CEO of Chicago-based Hazel Technologies— which makes products that can as much as triple the shelf life of fruits and vegetables—is betting his company’s future, and that of the planet, on such technology.
Today, April 13, Hazel is announcing it has closed on a $70 million Series C round, bringing its total funding to more than $87 million since its founding in 2015. The new funding round will enable the ag tech startup to expand its reach to serve customers around the worlds, Mouat said. Currently, Hazel, which has received grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has about 160 customers in 12 countries, including Mission Produce, the world’s largest Haas avocado producer, and Zespri, the largest distributor of kiwi fruit.
The Series C round was co-led by Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund (Pontifax AgTech), and Singapore-based Temasek, a global investment company. The round also attracted new and returning investors S2G Ventures, Pangea Ventures, Rhapsody Venture Partners, Asahi Kasai Ventures, Jordan Park Group, and the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Foundation, the company said.
“The Company’s novel solutions reduce food waste across the supply chain, and dramatically broaden access to quality, perishable foods for retailers and consumers worldwide,” said Tim Bluth, AgTech Vice President at Pontifax, said in a statement.
From its inception until the end of 2021, the company projects it will have saved almost a billion pounds of produce from going to waste.
If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, just behind the U.S. and China, Mouat told me in a phone chat from Chicago. Food waste, which accounts for about a third of all the food that’s produced, can occur anywhere along the supply chain, and much of it takes place right in your refrigerator. Hazel’s solutions can tackle the problem at various points along the way.
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Mouat started on his entrepreneurial journey at Northwestern University NWE while earning his PhD in chemistry. He and four fellow graduate students launched Hazel through a university-sponsored accelerator program. Three of the original cofounders are still with the company.
“We got the product out to the world in 2016, and its performance was strong enough that demand exploded almost overnight,” Mouat said. “We needed to raise VC money to scale.” The latest round, he adds,” will propel the business going forward.”
Currently Hazel has about 45 employees. With the new funding, Mouat said he expects Hazel’s headcount to reach 60 by the end of the year. And the new funding will also go a long way towards enabling the company’s global expansion, he said.
Hazel’s sachet contains a powder made of sand, dirt, ash and wood infused with an ethylene inhibitor that slows the ripening process. It’s placed right in the shipping box, where the vapor is control-released. That means more time to store or ship the product, benefiting farmers and consumers alike.
Mission Produce has been using Hazel’s sachets to extend the shelf life of ripe avocados from two to four days, said Patrick Cortes, senior director of business development at Mission. “ That’s a significant increase in shelf life, so it allows the retailer to have a longer time to utilize the fruits,” he said.
Hazel and Mission have also been collaborating on a longer lastingavocado, called AvoLast, which the company has introduced on a pilot basis in some U.S. supermarket chains. The avocado is shipped in containers with the sachets.
Using Hazel’s packets, Mission Produce has also had successful trials sending Peruvian avocados all the way to India—a trip that can take as long as 60 days. “It has helped us in opening up new markets to Haas avocados,” he said. And at the retail level, their data show that retailers are throwing away 50% less avocados.
In a perfect world, you should have the ability to pick a ripe avocado in the supermarket, said Cortes. “In theory, the idea we’ve proposed with Avolast, is that we, we can ripen the avocado further, so you can offer more ripe avocados to customers.”
And that can mean double or triple the sales for retailers. While in most cases, consumers dont know their fruit has been packed with Hazel’s sachets, retailers will eventually have the opportunity to tout the advantages of Hazel’s technology and their own role in reducing food waste, Cortes said. “With Hazel and Avolast, the retailer has a longer time to sell it and the consumer has a longer time to use it at home.”
While successful, Hazel’s sachets are just the beginning. Mouat said Hazel is developing a number products to help food last longer, including one that stops potatoes and other root vegetables from sprouting and another with antimicrobial properties to keep berries fresh. Hazel is also developing a product that stops meat and fish from spoiling, as well as a direct-to-consumer product that can keep produce fresher longer at home, said Mouat.
Solving the problem of food waste is critical as climate change worsens, said one of Hazel’s investors, Jeremey Grantham, trustee of Grantham Environmental Trust, in a statement. “Hazel’s technologies will be an integral part of that global solution.”