By Candice D. McLeod
Each week leading up to the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open (SBIO) finals on June 5th, where the runner-up will be decided via live online public vote, we will feature two articles on an SBIO semi-finalists. Meet semi-finalist Fenugreen.
Some of the best ideas are the simplest ones. This certainly applies to FreshPaper, a simple piece of paper tackling a complex problem – food waste.
Produced by Boston-based social enterprise, Fenugreen, FreshPaper is an inexpensive, compostable, recyclable thin organic paper insert that reduces food spoilage.
The key ingredients? Organic spices. These spices inhibit bacterial and fungal growth, as well as slow down the ripening process. A small sheet of Freshpaper, comparable to the size of a dryer sheet (5”x5”), can keep produce fresh for 2-4 times longer, approximately 75 percent the effectiveness of refrigeration.
With such a simple design combined with its efficiency, the applications for FreshPaper are endless.
In fact, Fenugreen is positioning the product to be used from farm to fork. FreshPaper sheets can simply be dropped into refrigerator drawers, as well as in boxes or bags of perishable food. It also can be used for large-scale food shipping and distribution. In addition, direct contact or wrapping is not necessary.
However, what makes FreshPaper particularly fascinating is not only its wide range of applications, but also the journey of its discovery, beginning with its humble start as a middle school science project.
Fenugreen founder and FreshPaper inventor, Kavita Shukla, was visiting her grandmother in India as a young girl, when she accidentally drank contaminated tap water. However, thanks to a spice tea that her grandmother prepared, Shukla avoided becoming ill. This incident then piqued Shukla’s interest in the potential anti-microbial properties of her grandmother’s home remedy. She researched several possible applications, including dipping strawberries into the tea. She realized the spice mixture kept the strawberries fresh longer, and this process eventually led to her create FreshPaper.
By the age of 17, Shukla had received a patent for FreshPaper. She went on to study Economics at Harvard University with the objective of starting a nonprofit whose mission would be to reduce global food waste, thanks to her invention.
“After I got a patent for FreshPaper as a senior in high school, I went on to college with hopes of creating a nonprofit. I thought that it could really help people like my grandma, who grew up without access to refrigeration,” says Shukla.
However, Shukla struggled with the best way of bringing her innovative product to market.
“In college, I couldn’t figure out how to get it to people. I realized how hard it could be to give something away for free. I started to think it didn’t have any real-world applications, because I had tried and failed,” says Shukla.
After college, she decided to give up on FreshPaper for a bit, and set her sights on pursuing a PhD. However, it was her graduate school application process that renewed her entrepreneurial aspirations, and her social mission.
“There was a question on one of my grad school applications that said, ‘What has been your biggest regret?’ I wrote down that I had had this invention as a kid, and my regret was not working on it anymore, because I wanted to do something about global food waste,” Shukla says. “After I wrote my essays, I had my friend, Swaroop Samant, read them over. As a doctor, he was fascinated by FreshPaper’s public health applications and encouraged me to keep working on my idea.”
Last summer, with no funding and no experience in the food industry, the duo decided to take FreshPaper to a local farmer’s market in Cambridge, MA. They shared handmade pieces of FreshPaper with anyone who stopped by, and received extremely favorable feedback about their product.
“We started to hear from people we had met at the farmer’s market, and they shared stories about how FreshPaper was helping them eat more fresh, healthy food and waste less,” says Shukla. “After that, everything started falling into place. A local co-op signed us on, and within a year, simply through word of mouth, we were shipping FreshPaper to folks across the U.S and launching in Whole Foods. Today, we’ve shipped FreshPaper to farmers and families in over 35 countries.”
The pair has continued to test FreshPaper with different materials and different applications. Together they have several patents – Shukla holds three patents, with four pending, and Samant has two pending patents.
However, they remain steadfast in the their commitment to their environmental and social goals.
Shukla says, “We are committed to sustainability - FreshPaper is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable, and made in the US. Today, we’re striving to make the food system not only more sustainable, but more accessible.”
Since taking that first step at the farmer’s market, Shukla has also been able to realize her childhood goal of using FreshPaper to help those who need it most, locally and internationally.
“Fenugreen is currently developing pilot projects with farmers in India and Africa, where we’re working to determine how FreshPaper can best help them reduce post-harvest loss,” says Shukla.
The social enterprise also has launched a “Buy a Pack, Give a Pack” initiative, where for every FreshPaper pack sold, a matching amount is donated to a local food bank.
Fenugreen has also received many accolades over the past year. In addition to being a Sustainable Brands Open Semi-Finalist, Fenugreen has garnered recogition from several organizations, including the Women in the World Foundation, The Economist, Lemelson-MIT Foundation, the Cartier Women’s Initiative, the Swiss Consulate, the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Startup America.
Furthermore, Shukla has spoken for TEDxManhanttan, and has been inducted into the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors.
“FreshPaper is powerful because it’s so simple — it can be used by anyone, in any part in the world.”
Visit Fenugreen to learn more about FreshPaper and its organic ability to keep your food fresh. You can also meet founder, Kavita Shukla, at the Sustainable Brands Solution Expo at SB’13. Enter the discount NW3pSB13 for free entry.
Candice D. McLeod is the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open Co-Coordinator. She received a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies, concentrating in Energy Management & Policy, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Connect with her on Twitter @candicedmcleod.