Trash Talk: How to Reduce Waste
Food waste is a colossal problem, and not just in this country. We discard a third of the food grown globally—an astonishing 1.3 billion tons every year. Shraddha Rathod wanted to tackle this issue head on. Along with her friend, Mona Amin, the 23-year-old Rathod founded Freshspire, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Here’s how it has evolved in the months since its launch.
Tell me about the essential premise. What got you started in this direction?
The main premise of what we're doing is reducing food waste, but we don't really market ourselves that way anymore. Recently a farmer told me that he didn’t want to sell surplus food; he wanted to sell food before it became surplus. And that's when we realized there's a deeper problem here, about communication between producers and buyers. There are buyers who are interested in buying local, but typically don't because it's so hard to find reliably. We created an online local food marketplace to connect these buyers and producers together. We are a website and we have a mobile app on iOS. Our assumption is that if we're able to create more real time communication with food that's available, then we can reduce waste.
When did you launch?
We launched in 2018, but we've been researching the food space for a while now. I graduated from North Carolina State University. My cofounder, Mona Amin, graduated from East Carolina University. My CTO graduated from North Carolina State as well.
How did you guys meet?
We have actually been friends for a long time. We went to the same middle school and to a residential high school called the North Carolina School of Science and Math, where we roomed together. This idea of doing something about food waste originated at the end of our senior year.
How is this one step better than the buying system already in place?
You'd be surprised at the systems that are in place. The buyer and the distributor might start their mornings out, sending 40 texts to every farmer, asking what’s available. It's very surprising how manual this is. That being said, there have been people who have tried something like we're doing and have failed because it's a hard problem.
Producers and farmers have to be transparent about what their product is: what are the sizes, what are the standards? How did you grow it? What are your certifications? Different grocery stores or restaurants might have different requirements. Some might need official organic certification, some might just require organic practices. Some stores will take the time to actually go visit the farm. You have to look into food safety and then you have to look at the standards. How do you communicate that? A grocery store might want big potatoes versus small potatoes. At the end of the day the liabilities actually fall on the farmers. They spend money on gas, they spend money on the truck, and they spend time picking the potatoes. So it's a lot of harm done if it doesn’t sell. If there were better communication between the two parties, then a lot of these things can be optimized. If you just had one place, you post your produce or your product and get eyes from all around you, and that's an easier way to sell. You can also make better decisions on what to grow.
How do you make money?
Our business model usually calls for a 3 percent transaction fee, which is paid by the buyer of the goods. That number fluctuates sometimes, but we make a percent transaction fee on orders.
Why has such matchmaking traditionally been such a challenge?
With local food, getting from point A to point B is difficult. It includes behavioral change. Since we are a heavy engineering team, we are able to pivot really quickly based off of feedback. Every feature, order tracking, for example, is based off of the evidence that we've built. The ability that producers have to communicate with their buyers is one of the many key differentiators for us.
Poornima Apte, a widely published freelance writer, editor, and book reviewer, is based in the Boston area. Learn more at WordCumulus.com.
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