Naturpod is an envelope containing potassium permanganate. The envelope absorbs ethylene, a natural hormone produced by fruit and vegetables that accelerates the ripening process.
When placed inside the door of a fridge or in a shop’s warehouse, fruit and vegetables remain fresh and in optimal conditions for longer.
The company is targeting its solution both at consumers and retailers in Europe. Its technology has a host of potential benefits, CEO and co-founder of Naturpod Marta Pastor Maltas told FoodNavigator: it can reduce food waste and its damaging effects on the environment; save businesses and consumers money; and, by staying fresher for longer and retaining its nutritional value, help people eat healthier.
“It works for all types of fruit and vegetables,” explained Pastor, an economist who was compelled to turn her back on 25 years working in the financial world to focus on a business with a social purpose. “There are some that emit more ethylene than others, and there are fruits and vegetables that are more sensitive to this ethylene.” By absorbing the ethylene, it cleans the environment of the fridge and fruits and vegetables keep fresher for longer for an average of two to three times, she claimed. “If an apple lasts two weeks in your fridge, with Naturpod it will last four to six weeks depending on when it was harvested and how many other things are in the fridge."
The solution will help businesses improve efficiency, she added, typically saving around €600 a year, though there is of course the risk that this type of product will result in consumers, by not having to throw it away, buying less fruit and vegetables.
For in-home customers, the €8.95 Naturpod box contains three sachets which typically last 30 days each. Prices for supermarkets, retailers and local shops depend on their size.
‘Data as important as the solution’
Similar technology is already being used in the transportation of fruit and vegetables to prevent them deterioration before reaching shelves. What's different about Naturpod?
"We were aware there was this technology that was already used in transport,” said Pastor. “But it was not used for final consumers or shops, where much of the waste and loss is produced. There was no solution for this segment so thought there was a huge opportunity."
That a third of the food we produce is wasted (making it, if it were a country, the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China) is now a familiar statistic. According to the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) Food Waste Index Report 2021, 17% of global food production is wasted, with 43% of this waste coming from households, 26% from food service, and 13% from retail.
"The way it works is not the same as in transport as it's specifically designed for consumers and retailers,” stressed Maria Elisa Turullols Cardenal, Naturpod COO and Strategic Development, who explained the technology is being developed to provide intelligent features for users. For example, sensors and data will provide information to consumers and retailers concerning humidity, temperature and how much ethylene there is in the storage environment. “That has never been considered before in that market segment,” she told us. “So we're ahead of anyone else in that sense."
The solution is also timely, Turullols believes, “as more countries introduce legislation requiring companies to take temperature, humidity and ethylene measures to make sure they don't waste food. So we provide the type of information that much of this legislation requires.”
Spain's new food waste law, for example, which is expected to take effect from 1 January next year, will ask businesses to draw up plans to reduce food loss and waste. Supermarkets and restaurants in Spain could face fines of up to €60,000 for wasting food.
Similar legislation is expected in France and Italy. The Naturpod business, currently based in Spain, is therefore planning to expand across Europe and also the Middle East. Its ambitions to scale will likely be helped after it was selected as one of 12 start-ups chosen as finalists of the second edition of the Abu Dhabi-based FoodTech Challenge, which looks to identify the most cutting-edge agri-tech and food-tech solutions in the market today.
Selected from an initial submission of 667 applications across 79 countries, the 12 finalists now participate in a six-week mentorship program now move to the concluding stage, where four start-ups will be selected to win the competition’s pooled prize of up to US $2 million.
"This is a huge opportunity for us to contribute to the climate change challenge and have a worldwide impact," said Turullols.