We interviewed Aidan Mouat, Co-Founder & CEO at Hazel Technologies about tackling food waste in the supply chain, solving labour challenges during COVID-19 and outlining the differences between the suppliers and retailers and how they can benefit consumers.

Aidan Mouat - Hazel Technologies - Virtual World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit
Aidan Mouat, Co-Founder & CEO, HAZEL TECHNOLOGIES

Excessive food spoilage witnessed during COVID-19 has given further momentum to the challenge of tackling food waste within the supply chain. How is the convergence of technologies enabling us to extend the shelf life of products and drive quality upstream?

There are three keys areas of the supply chain that must be addressed: pre-farmgate practices, supply chain technologies, and market demand and creation. An example of each kind of focus is (1) labour-saving harvest equipment targeted at overcoming workforce instability; (2) our products, which alleviate logistics issues by maximizing shelf-life during and after storage and transit; and (3) secondary marketplace creation like Full Harvest or similar companies that work to “de-centralize” the supply chain and eliminate wasted opportunities for shorter shelf-life products. If you do not have all three components then positive change is just cost redirection, which is not sufficient to reduce waste overall.

How does the launch of Hazel Trex offer a paradigm shift in approach to managing quality pre-harvest? What opportunities does this have to solve labour challenges experienced before and more acutely during COVID-19?

Food waste has many dimensions, and that includes the labour and environmental cost. One way to reduce labour inputs in-field is to provide a higher degree of accuracy in harvest and application timing, which requires having the most granular understanding of the flowering stage of crops. Trex provides this insight to the farmer in a way that scales to their needs. They can test crops per hectare, ½ hectare, individual row, commensurate with their data needs. The technology alleviates a general concern over other field data-generating platforms that do not provide fast enough turnaround or granular enough information on the crops.

How are technologies being pushed and pulled through the supply chain? What appetite are you seeing from the farm to the retail for greater collaboration and what are the key barriers to adoption?

There is always an essential tension between the supplier and the retailer because so much of the risk in the supply chain is centred on the supplier. I think there is renewed interest from the retailers in technology programs, but to date they still largely push the burden of technology deployment back on the supplier, and the supplier may not have the resources to deploy it in a way that is meaningful to the broader scope of retailers. The key X-factor missing here is consumer interest. If food was valued at the total true cost of production, factoring in all social and environmental impact, food would cost significantly more to the consumer, but we would see considerably less waste. The retailer and supplier will adopt any technology in the world that helps when the consumer proves the willingness to pay for it.

How are consumers and regulators driving change? What major shifts of how we grow, store and distribute food are we likely to see over the next 10 years?

Consumers are the key driver, but the regulation of marketing dilutes the drive for sustainability. Too much emphasis gets placed on attractive buzzwords like “GMO” and “organic,” which are monitored by regulatory authorities but largely exist to serve marketing purposes rather than environmentally beneficial ones. I think consumer education on good food practices is a better focus than leaving everything to the regulators – the educated consumer can make choices that are good for them as well as the world around them.

A major shift in growing and distribution is decentralization. There are two flavours: one is the creation of new agronomies in emerging countries (growing crop production in Peru and Columbia, for example), which is particularly important as climate changes and traditional production zones experience more stresses than in previous decades. The other is an increase in urban production, like vertical farming and small-acre farming. A great way to de-stress the supply chain from problems of centralization and monoculture is to expand the dinner plate to include atypical foods (if you are in North America, eat more purslane!) and produce a wider range of crops in a wider range of areas that reduces centralized land use.

Join Aidan Mouat at the virtual World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit on September 15-16, 2020 and tune into his panel discussion on ‘Taking a Fresh Approach to Tackle Food Waste and Drive Quality Upstream’ in the dedicated Supply Chain Transparency & Resiliency Track. For more information about Hazel Technologies, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.