Breaking Down Food Waste: An Exclusive Interview with Katherine Sizov
Food waste management is a severe challenge in the global environment and poses societal concerns. Edible unsold food in grocery stores or leftover food on consumers’ plates is usually discarded in landfills, causing enormous waste across the supply chain.
Each year, 119 billion pounds of food is wasted in the U.S., 40% of which comes from restaurants, grocery stores, and food service companies. Forty-five percent of the material in landfills is food, packaging, and containers.
Rising inflation and medical healthcare costs have also increased insecurities around food. Wasted food could be a nourisher for insecure households or a contributor to promoting carbon emissions. As the issue of food waste continues to plague the world globally, Strella Biotechnologies has stepped up to the plate with innovative solutions.
In this exclusive interview, Grocery Doppio and Katherine Sizov discuss Strella’s mission, cutting-edge technology, and impact on the fight against food waste. Strella is a biotech data company that solves the problem of food waste by revolutionizing how we think about food in the value chain. By providing critical insights about a product's shelf life using its proprietary data, Strella enables food producers, retailers, and distributors to make smarter decisions and reduce waste throughout the supply chain.
Below Sizov shares insights on the challenges of perishable food and the innovative solutions that Strella is pioneering in shelf-life technology that positively impacts the environment.
Grocery Doppio: Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start Strella Biotechnology.
Sizov: I studied molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania and was inspired to start Strella when I read that 40% of food is wasted before its consumed. I realized that as a consumer, I had no idea where my food came from and the journey to the grocery store. This led me to explore the agriculture supply chain and eventually found my company.
Grocery Doppio: How big is the food waste problem, and who are the major creators of waste in the grocery industry?
Sizov: The carbon emissions on food waste are quoted as more significant than all US transportation combined. No one in the food chain is trying to create food waste as it is misaligned with profitability and the ultimate goals of the grocery industry. As it stands, there is very little data driving supply chain decision-making, and supply chain segments are siloed. Thus, there’s no “guardian angel” of products as they travel down the chain making sure the appropriate decisions to reduce waste are being made.
Grocery Doppio: How is Strella helping to reduce food waste? Can you discuss the company’s technology?
Sizov: Strella uses shelf life data to enable more intelligent decisions in the food supply chain. We use sensors that can predict produce maturity to optimize inventory sequencing based on shelf life instead of qualitative or FIFO-based decision-making.
Grocery Doppio: How would you define the problem of sustainability vs. profitability, especially in the context of inflation and rising prices?
Sizov: There is a misconception around sustainability and profitability. If a process is not optimal, it is both unsustainable and less profitable. For example, it takes a significant amount of resources to produce a crop. In that case, it becomes less profitable to the grower, and therefore incentives around sustainability and profitability are aligned. The best sustainability solutions align with the bottom line.
Grocery Doppio: What is the impact of GHG emissions caused by food waste?
Sizov: Food waste doesn’t generate any useful outcomes, unlike certain other causes of GHG emissions such as transportation. Therefore it should be an immediate target to address.
Grocery Doppio: Considering the fierce competition in the industry, what is your company’s competitive advantage? What makes it stand out from others?
Sizov: We are protected in the most physical sense through our IP portfolio around the shelf life signals we collect and our sensor technology. However, we pride ourselves in our attention to the relationships we create within the industry and look to grow alongside our customers to provide the greatest value we can.
Grocery Doppio: How do you measure your company's impact on food waste, any specific metrics you follow? Any metrics to measure the perishability of commodities?
Sizov: We measure our output through shrink reduction, changes in quality, and overall volumes of produce that we monitor.
Grocery Doppio: What is your company’s marketing strategy? How do you plan to expand your customer base?
Sizov: Generally, our marketing is done through word of mouth and industry events. As our presence expands globally, so does our participation in such events worldwide.
Grocery Doppio: How can your technology help fight food waste by securing food for food-insecure households?
Sizov: Produce is often dumped in the landfill because it is already too spoiled to go to a food bank or alternative source. By having proactive metrics on maturity, we can redirect produce to such outlets in a timely manner and provide fresh fruits and veggies for those that really need them.
Grocery Doppio: How can your company help a large grocer like Kroger? At which levels in the supply chain can you help them?
Sizov: Our automated quality management (AQM) platform helps the retailer manage apple quality throughout the entire supply chain journey. Strella’s banana board provides ripening recommendations to ripeners based on banana respiration to consistently provide perfect color bananas.
Grocery Doppio: How do you see the grocery industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, and how does the company's vision fit into this? What does the future hold for your company?
Sizov: The supply chain will become smarter and more flexible, integrating supply and demand information and consumer preferences to bring the freshest, tastiest food to the right place at the right time. We aim to be the “guardian angels” of produce throughout all supply chain segments.
Grocery Doppio: What impactful advice have you received that you continue to follow?
Sizov: Follow your gut! We spend a lot of time wishing we tried something or went a certain path. If your heart tells you to do it, go for it and you won't regret it.
This interview is part of Grocery Doppio’s ongoing coverage of food waste management solutions. Click here for more insight into food waste management and sustainability efforts across the grocery industry. If you would like to be featured in an upcoming executive insight please reach out to Neha Ghai at email@example.com