It sounds like a simple problem to solve: Grocery stores waste massive amounts of almost-expired food, while millions of people nearby go hungry. Why not connect the two? But the logistics of getting an overripe banana to a food bank fast enough that it can feed someone are more complicated than you think. Tesco, the U.K.’s largest chain, wasted over 100 million pounds of food last year, despite its donations to charity.
A Swedish startup is taking a different approach. Rather than trying to deliver fresh fruits that are about to go bad, they dry the fruits and turn them into a nutritional powder they’re marketing as FoPo. The powder can be mixed with water or sprinkled on yogurt or ice cream.
“By drying fruits you extend the shelf life from around two weeks up to two years,” says Kent Ngo, one of the founders of FoPo. The process, which can retain between 30% to 80% of the original nutritional value, makes logistics simpler. Suddenly it’s possible to efficiently send the food not only to local soup kitchens, but to anyone struggling from hunger around the world.
“By using dried fruits we also eliminate the need for a fridge to preserve the food—sometimes this is critical in developing countries when the electricity stops working or in situations where a fridge doesn’t exist,” Ngo says.
The drying process works up until the fruit’s last edible moments. “We can use the fruits up until the very day they expire,” he says. “We collect produce which was deemed as ‘rejects,’ which are comprised of mostly overripe, ugly, misshaped, discolored but otherwise perfectly edible fruits and vegetables.” The fruits are sorted and anything that’s already moldy or inedible is tossed.
The company, which was founded by students from Lund University in Sweden, is piloting their product this summer in the Philippines. Thanks to poor storage and transport, huge amounts of food grown in the Philippines is wasted. At the same time, the country has a desperate need for cheap food.
“A lot of people here simply don’t have enough money to buy food for the day,” says Ngo. “So we asked ourselves, where in the world is a cheap fruit powder needed the most?” The disaster-prone country also suffers from typhoons, earthquakes and floods on a regular basis, and the company believes the powder is a cheap but nutritious way to provide humanitarian aid when disaster strikes.
They’re working with local markets and farms to collect lemons, pineapples, and mangoes, and experiment with the manufacturing process. Once they’ve fully tested for safety, they plan to start selling in stores and supplying at a low cost to nonprofits.
“The fact is that one third of the food produced in the world is being thrown away—which would be more than enough to feed the entire population,” says Ngo. “Sometimes fruit is thrown away because it is spoiled, sometimes because the fruit looks ugly, sometimes because people cook too much food. We can’t do anything about people cooking too much food—but we are set on doing something about the rest.”