Guest post by Michael Lippold, founder of FreshRealm. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Food+Tech Connect.
It seems like we have been trying to reinvent the wheel in the food industry, but an improved model may be closer and easier than we think.
Some of the finest examples of innovation in the last years have come not from never-before-seen systems, but from reimagining existing systems to be faster, better, smarter.
Look at Uber, leveraging existing vehicles on the road for sleeker and more convenient transportation on demand. Look at Airbnb, leveraging extra bedrooms to provide travelers more personal hospitality experiences (not to mention new revenue for those who host).
Both Uber and Airbnb offer better economics, are more sound for the environment and provide a stronger connection between people – all by using current infrastructure.
The same is possible for our food distribution. All of the ingredients to provide healthy, safe and sufficient food to every American are already in place in our existing food ecosystem. We just haven’t been using them to their potential.
40% of all food in America is wasted. 70% of Americans’ calories come from processed food loaded with preservatives. Our food distribution system is starved for efficiency, traveling from farm to truck to packing center to distribution center to truck to another distribution center to stockroom to shelf to table. The average “fresh” cut fruits and vegetables or prepared salads and sandwiches on your grocer’s shelf are often up to 5-7 days old. There are still regional pockets of America where real, fresh food is out of reach, and certainly not sustainable.
We can do better for our industry, our planet and for each other.
Let’s start with one part of the industry that works very well. Food is safe. Despite the inefficiencies mentioned, our food safety standards are first-class and reliable. We need to leave them uncompromised as our industry evolves. Our challenge then, is to design an institutional solution that dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes for fresh food to get from farm to table, without decreasing our current food safety standards.
Now, the core issue: we cannot distribute fast or efficiently enough to bring fresh, healthy food to everyone. As a result, many people instead rely on processed calories, and nearly half of our food goes to waste.
To offer fresh food everywhere, we need to get it there not just faster, but more directly. We can close the distribution gap through innovative technology, great design and human connection. We have been working on the forefront of this issue at FreshRealm.
Traditionally, food makers, packers and carriers have operated in silos, thinking and working independently from each other and the families they nourish. This system has standardized inefficiencies in delivery time, resulting in higher costs and food spoilage. But by applying a cloud-based portal that each party leverages together, we can seamlessly connect the people and operations that harvest, prepare, pack, deliver and eat the food – and eliminate virtually all food waste and the main need for processed food. This is what FreshRealm has started doing in California and is preparing to do throughout the country.
There have been a number of different grocery, cooking and meal delivery systems introduced to the market in the last few years. We see most of them falling into two categories: using the existing system of warehousing food between multiple distribution centers and adding a truck on the end of it, or trying to become food maker/packer/distributor by themselves. Why recreate existing food infrastructure when it is already built for the masses? Why add more trucks to the road when companies like FedEx and UPS have already developed exquisite infrastructure to reach every American, efficiently?
Working with national delivery carriers then brings up another question: how do you ship perishable foods in non-refrigerated trucks? Not in a cardboard box. Not in a mini-fridge. You’d have to design something that works optimally for existing infrastructure and for safe temperature control. Our solution is the FreshRealm Vessel: a reusable box housing an insulated, modular shelving system for delivering a week’s worth of fresh food safely. It is a result of imagination and conscience, something in no short supply in 2015.
The decades-old system of farmers, packers, merchandisers and hungry Americans is simply reimagined. With the help of design, technology and a collaborative business model, we are building a platform that’s able to deliver real, fresh food to anywhere in the contiguous 48 states in just one day. This is not a rebuilding of the food industry — this is an evolution of the industry by connecting more efficiently.
Internet of Food is editorial series exploring how we might use technology, new business models and design to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone. Join the conversation between February 17 and April 2. Share your ideas in the comments, on Twitter using#internetoffood, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Michael R. Lippold is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of FreshRealm, a fresh food delivery platform, connecting food makers, packers, carriers, merchants and shoppers through innovative cloud-based technology and the revolutionary Vessel. Before founding FreshRealm, Michael spent over six years at Calavo Growers, Inc. as Director of Strategic Development where he led the acquisition of one of America’s premiere fresh food companies. Michael spent over ten years on Wall Street as a Portfolio Manager & Analyst for Telluride Asset Management, Craig-Hallum Capital Group, Prudential Financial, and Rocket Capital Management. Michael earned his Bachelor of Arts in Financial Economics from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and holds his Chartered Financial Analyst designation.