In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast, Farther Farms’ co-founders Vipul Saran and Michael Annunziata explain how the new technology works, what inspired it and what it means for food manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike.
According to Annuziata, the idea for Farther Farms began when Saran worked in India – trying to ship fresh produce to the Middle East without refrigeration or cold-chain infrastructure. Needless to say, the endeavor resulted in high levels of food spoilage and waste.
Annuziata explained Saran came to Cornell to create a process that combines high pressure and moderate temperature to extend the shelf life of cut produce up to 60 days so that it can travel farther and reach more people who currently do not have access to produce either because the cold storage infrastructure does not exist or because the produce is not convenient.
Saran further explained that he started with the potato because it is a staple for many populations and poses unique challenges in that it begins to brown immediately when cut and it is susceptible to pathogens that can make people sick.
“The process that we were trying to build was to address those two main problems … and what we found is if we washed the potatoes in high pressure water and the used gasses to attain a pressure high enough in a chamber… we can inactivate both of those limiting factors,” he said.
Farther Farms’ was not the first to find a solution to the problem of food waste stemming from browning potatoes. The JR Simplot Company’s blackspot resistant genetically modified potato was approved by FDA in 2015. But Saran doesn’t see this as a competitive threat in the US because he says consumers will not accept it.
“On the surface, yes, maybe a GMO potato is a good option if it is something that is more convenient … but it is only effective if consumers want to buy it. So, we are working on the hunch that people today in America are not very much wanting to accept GMO products,” Saran said.
Plus, he said, his technology is more in line with consumer demands for clean and natural products.
Benefits beyond waste reduction
Farther Farms’ technology also has benefits beyond food waste reduction – it can help reduce energy consumption by 30% by eliminating the need for long term cold storage, freezing or canning.
Annuziata explains that this is increasingly important not only because of the growing threat of climate change, but because retailers are pressuring manufacturers and suppliers to reduce their emissions.
“Walmart, for example, wanted suppliers to eliminate a gigaton of greenhouse gasses by 2030 and one way we see they can do that is by shifting some of their frozen infrastructure to refrigerated infrastructure or dry storage to reduce the carbon emissions of those trucks that transport materials to their warehouses where they store those materials,” he said.
Triple bottom line fries pave way for CPGs
Farther Farms also is using the technology to make finished consumer products, including its Natural Cuts French fries, which Annuziata affectionately calls the “triple bottom line” fry.
“What [is] so triple bottom line about it … [is] by extending the shelf life we reduce food waste, by not requiring refrigeration or freezing you reduce energy consumption and the triple bottom line for the French fries is they are actually healthier,” he said, explaining: “When you fry it they have 40% less calories because the oil uptake is lower and it is not pre-fried like frozen is.”
The company plans to push the fry out to market first through foodsevice, where the executives hope chefs will help create buzz. Then, once it has scaled its manufacturing capabilities and secured sufficient supply lines, it will take the fries to the retail level for consumers to make in their homes.
And while it is early days still for the company, Annuziata says it is moving fast on development and production – especially when compared to the creation of previous technology, such as individual quick freeze.
He explained that Saran developed the technology from concept to reality in less than a year, whereas individual quick freeze took more than 100 years to streamline.
“We see ourselves as potentially the analog to the next evolution of instant quick freeze,” and shelf stability, he said.
To that end, Annuziata says Farther Foods has a vision of being the largest producer of shelf stable produce using its process, including not just potatoes but all types of fruits and vegetables. Already, he says the company is working on avocados and apples and is experimenting with sweet potatoes, green peppers and sugar beets with “very promising results.”