Last Wednesday, a bunch of innovators in the food production space descended on the almighty city of Palmerston North to pitch for their lives.
For the city slickers, Palmerston North is home to a lot of innovation happening in the agritech space. Massey University’s School of Agriculture and Environment is located here, as is The Factory, a former dairy factory that has now become a centre for research and innovation, helping nurture local companies and running programmes that look at the future of farming and of food production, like the Sprout Accelerator.
As part of Idealog and Sprout Accelerator’s Transfarmation competition, six finalists who’d met the competition brief of using indigenous methods or ingredients, using food waste in a creative way or creating a more sustainable form of packaging were flown in to pitch their idea in front of six judges – a nerve-wracking task by anyone’s standards.
Those finalists hailed from all around the country, from Auckland, to Wellington and Christchurch. The final six were Wrapt, Citizen, Foodprint, Reusabowl, Kelpn as People’s Choice winner (their entry had the most likes and comments on the Shuttlerock page) and the wildcard, K&R’s Wheatstraw breadclip.
Reusabowl is a reusable food container system that is for consumers, but food retailers are the customers. The idea behind it is it to eliminate single-use food packaging through restaurants and cafes stocking the containers and users paying a deposit to lease the container when they purchase takeaway food. The deposit is then refunded to the user once the container is returned, operating on a trust system. A similar concept has already been introduced to the New Zealand market through Again Again, a reusable coffee cup system. Its co-founders described it as like a library book system – containers are used, then returned, washed and leased again to another customer. The food containers were pitched as being made of a durable bioplastic, but only a couple of prototypes had been made so far. The co-founders behind this idea are Marine Bucher, Sarah Booher and Bobby Lloyd.
Wrapt was the 2019 Transfarmation runner-up. It is a company that creates environmentally friendly edible food wraps that are made out of a secret recipe, which involves seaweed. It’s the creation of 16-year-old Brooke Moore, a self-confessed molecular gastronomy nerd who wanted to come up with an alternative to the plastics that harm the environment and are currently the go-to choice for consumers. Her products are already in market and Moore is building a profile for herself, having recently appeared on TVNZ’s Breakfast show and winning a 2019 Girlboss Innovation Award. There is also potential for her product to be expanded into the agriculture industry as an alternative to silage wraps and plastic bags that are used around the farm. As her product is edible, it will cause no harm to livestock if they were to consume it. In terms of what stage her company is at, Moore is due to meet with large corporates such as Glad and Zuru to discuss licensing her product out to them.
Citizen is a company that has taken the circular economy to all new levels. Its plan is to collect food products past its display date from supermarkets and turn it into beverages with the help of industry partners. Citizen has not yet started production on its products, but it has been in talks with organisations such as Akina, Callaghan Innovation and the Food Bowl.
Foodprint was crowned the overall winner of our Transfarmation competition. It’s an app founded Michal Garvey that aims to reduce the 50,000 tonnes of food waste produced annually in New Zealand by cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. Eateries can sell surplus food that otherwise would’ve been chucked out and customers can score delicious meals at 50 percent the normal price, meaning a win-win for both parties. Garvey has had success in the five months she’s been running it, but now she’s at a point where she’d like some support to expand nationally. You can read our full interview with Garvey here.
Kelpn is a company that’s developing a soft plastic packaging alternative that is made out of kelp seaweed and 100 percent compostable, while also keeping the product it contains inside it, such as food, as fresh as conventional plastic packaging. It was our People’s Choice winner, receiving the most likes and shares out of the entries by the time the competition closed. The team has been experimenting with using different types of kelp that grow around New Zealand as a raw material which can then be turned into a kelp-based bioplastic and benefit the environment as a carbon sequestration tool. Its team is made up of Abel Goremusandu, Jack Holloway, Jaclyn Phillott and Mikaila Ceelen-Thomas.
K&R’s Wheatstraw Breadclip
K&R’s Wheatstraw Breadclip was the Wildcard finalist, and its innovation is in the title. The team has created a wheat-straw alternative to the humble bread clip, a small but not unimportant item many people interact with in their day to day lives. About one billion plastic bread clips are produced each year, equating to about 240 bread clips per person in New Zealand. K&R wanted to create a sustainable alternative to this wasteful, unnecessary piece of plastic. They have produced a prototype, but are yet to organise the logistics of developing this at scale.
The judging process
While everyone had very worthy ideas, some of the criteria for scoring by the judges was around leadership, ambition and their technical knowledge in the people and team, the size of the market and the competitive landscape, the product, its investment and resource allocation and product development stage, alongside their knowledge of IP and their competition fit, depending on how they met the Transfarmation brief and solved a global issue.
For Reusabowl, it was clear that the company is addressing a real issue in terms of single-use packaging. However, there was concerns expressed by the judges about how food safety would be managed, particularly when it comes to consumers being guaranteed the bowls are safe for food intolerances, such as a gluten intolerance. It would also be up to each food retailer to ensure the bowls are properly cleaned. Further clarity around what bioplastic and its durability to stains and other challenges was needed.
With Wrapt, there was a lot to like. Moore is a charismatic and confident founder who'd proven her product appeals to several demographics, such as parents who want alternatives to oil-based and non-recyclable food wraps for their children's lunches. However, there were concerns around the IP of the Wrapt products, particularly now Moore is looking to partner with a bigger organisation, which may try reverse engineer her idea. The judges decided Wrapt was runner up of the competition and will be awarding her additional mentoring from specialists in packaging, food safety and business development.
Foodprint was the overall Transfarmation winner due to being a deceptively simple concept that proved attractive to price-conscious and waste-averse consumers. As summarised by Transfarmation judge Chelsea Millar: “As an entrepreneur, Michal showed a hunger to be solving an issue that is unfortunately, becoming a large global problem. She demonstrated good knowledge of her market, a desire to bring the right team together to execute her business plan (despite having a few hiccups already) and has produced a user experience that is receiving good feedback. Wrapping the Sprout team around her is going to allow her to really accelerate her business from the foundation she has already established. What impressed me the most was that she's bootstrapped her idea from the start and being only in market for five months, she has already achieved a lot."
With Kelpn, the judges agreed that the company addressed a real issue and had been making good progress developing its idea. However, it was very early stage there was not enough clarity provided in what products or markets it would be focusing on with its kelp-based bioplastic.
When it came to Citizen, judges were impressed by the presentation and the originality of the idea: taking circular concepts and incorporating them into beer and bread production, two products New Zealanders consume a lot of. However, judges said high price points would be required to recompensate the energy and effort invested in this process. Citizen also was early stage and didn’t have proof of concept or prototypes as of yet.
With K&R’s Wheatstraw breadclip, the concept of using straw as a raw material was clever and though the bread clip is a niche product, it’s also most likely to be overlooked as a form of plastic waste worth changing, so the judges commended the team for thinking about this. However, the issue with this idea is that the product has to be sold at an extremely low price point in order to be profitable and competitive. It also will face issues in resonating with consumers as part of the plastic problem due to being a small detail – particularly if the bread bag is still made of plastic.
When it came to all of the finalists, one of the overarching issues affecting most of them was IP. Judges urged them to think more about protecting their ideas, as they could be easily recreated by a company with more resources at their fingertips and needed protecting. It came across as a bit of an afterthought or something put on the back burner rather than being a priority, when it needs to be put front and centre.
We encourage everyone to keep at developing their ideas, and get in touch with us at a later date – who knows, maybe you’ll feature in our Elevator Pitch section soon! If you're interested in learning more about the Sprout Accelerator, you can head to their website.
Thank you to all of the finalists who took time out of their day to come pitch, the judges for offering their expertise and Sprout Accelerator for being our partner in the search for the future of food production. And finally, congratulations to Michal Garvey from Foodprint – we look forward to seeing where you go next.
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