The Ethical Investor: Farmers Pick and these ASX stocks tackle the growing problem of food waste
Read it straight from Stockhead here.
- The UN has warned that the world could be facing a hunger catastrophe in 2023
- The issue has brought focus on food wastage
- Stockhead reaches out to Farmers Pick co-founder Josh Ball to get his insights on what we can do
The head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has warned that the world faces an imminent “catastrophe” as a result of a global food shortage.
The UN Secretary-General said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions already caused by the Covid pandemic, risking the possibility of an “unprecedented global hunger crisis”.
“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” Guterres told a forum in Berlin via video conference.
He added that this year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage.
“No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe. And 2023 could be even worse,” he said.
His warning came as people all over the world face rising food and energy prices as a result of spiralling inflation.
Food waste in the spotlight
The worsening situation has put the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Goal Number 12, which addresses Food Wastage, under an increasing spotlight.
The official goals of UN SDG Number 12 state:
“By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.”
And.. “By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.”
Sadly, the world is not on track to meet these goals.
According to Ethical Parters, a staggering 14% of food is still lost between harvest and retail annually, while an estimated 17% of total global food production is wasted.
That equates to $1 trillion per year in economic losses, and 25% of all food related GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions.
The picture in Australia is similarly grim as we waste more than 7.6 million tonnes of food per year, equating to around 300kg per person annually.
ASX stocks that focus on tackling food waste
On the ASX, a company that focuses purely on solving Australia’s food waste problem is Delorean Corporation (ASX:DEL).
Delorean collects food and organic waste from industrial and agricultural streams in local markets, and processes it for energy production through a natural biological process called anaerobic digestion.
This process produces clean biogas to fuel conventional heat and power generators, and can also be upgraded to mains-grade renewable natural gas for use in the existing gas network.
Cleanaway Waste Management (ASX:CWY), meanwhile, helps businesses recover food waste through its organics recycling technology.
CWY’s EPA-approved organics recovery facilities help cafes, shopping malls, kitchens, bakeries and other food and beverage businesses turn food waste into high-grade compost and fertilisers.
For bulk food manufacturers and supermarkets, CWY’s food de-packaging technology takes large volumes of food or liquid packaged in aluminium, plastic, liquid paperboard or cardboard, and separates the organic material to be recycled.
Meanwhile Earthpower, a non-listed company which was formerly owned by Cleanaway, also turns food waste into green energy.
Earthpower processes over 52,500 tonnes per annum of food organics and at full capacity, is capable of producing enough green electricity to power over 3,000 homes.
Saving food from the landfill
Fortunately, the solution to food waste is multi-faceted and it’s not all about recycling and turning food scraps into useful products.
A Melbourne-based startup called Farmers Pick is taking a different angle by salvaging food before it hits the landfills.
According to the company, over 30% (or around 2.4 billion kg) of produce never leaves the farm.
This means that if a vegetable has a small mark or is a “non-standard” shape or size, the supermarkets and other retailers reject them, causing it to be dumped in landfill.
In Australia, 1.7 million tonnes of produce are lost every year because of that very reason.
In the past two years, Farmers Pick says that it has saved almost 700,000kg of fresh fruits and veggies from landfill by saving those that were rejected by the supermarkets.
Farmers Pick delivers those unwanted produce directly to consumers’ doors for cheaper than they could buy in the supermarkets.
The startup was co-founded by Josh Ball and Josh Brookes-Duncan, who met at university and started the project after a walk through a farmers market during the Covid lockdown in 2020.
The company’s mission is big and ambitious, and these guys are determined to deliver on their mission to halve Australian food waste by 2025.
Interview with Farmers Pick co-founder, Josh Ball
How big is the food waste problem here in Australia?
“As a macro and a micro economic problem, food waste is costing Australia $36.6 billion per annum. And that’s across the full supply chains, not only on farms, but also in households,” Ball told Stockhead.
“When you nail that down, it’s costing about $50 a week from throwing out veggies and other food as well.
“So there is a genuine financial impact, especially at the moment where you’ve got an inflationary pressures and rising cost of living.
“I think the best way to help with the problem is for people to save some money on their groceries, and then make sure they use it all up.”
How did we ever get to this situation?
“I think what we’ve seen over the past decades is a loss of respect for food at a really fundamental level, because food is just so abundant and available,” said Ball.
“That’s how we’ve landed ourselves here where we just have such an absurd amount of food waste, like 7.6 million tonnes in Australia. Around 1.7 million tonnes of that never even leave the farm.
“We saw that as a massive problem, but also an opportunity to start talking to people and to consumers in order to change that narrative.”
Why does so much produce get rejected by supermarkets?
“It’s not about nutrition, supply, or availability. It’s also not because they’re rotting or old,” Ball explained.
“At a really fundamental level, it’s about aesthetics.
“It’s all come from the specification that’s been set over the past 30 or 40 years by the major chains to determine how a product should look when it arrives on their doorstep.
“We’re all visual creatures, and we do tend to look for the more red tomato.
“If you’ve got 100 tomatoes to choose from, you’re going to choose the one that looks the best, even though there’s no difference between that one and the one that’s got a bit of a blemish on it.”
How does Farmers Pick work?
“We work directly with farmers, talking to them almost every day and trying to understand all the different challenges they’re facing around growing supply,” Ball said.
“Farmers Pick will essentially buy from farmers what’s rejected by supermarkets because of those aesthetic reasons.
“We will then supply that in a seasonal box to customers across Victoria and New South Wales in either a weekly or fortnightly subscription.
“There’s obviously less demand for this ugly produce and because of that, we’re able to supply customers up to 30% cheaper than the supermarkets, delivered to the doorstep.
“There’s that cost savings element, but there’s also a freshness element because we’re getting it in direct from the farmers.”
Is this a capital intensive business, and what are your growth plans?
“With our subscription model, we’re effectively paid upfront so there’s no capital squeeze,” said Ball.
“And on the flip side, when we’re buying produce, we’re rarely holding it for more than a day or two so we’ve effectively pre-sold everything we buy.
“Since we started two years ago, we’ve rescued and redistributed nearly 700 tonnes of produce, so we’re currently moving about 25 tonnes a week.
“But we’re at the point now where we’re set to grow.
“We’ve now got the capacity warehouse-wise and also staffing, so we’re ready to grow five or six times almost immediately.
“We are looking to scale pretty quickly because we understand it’s an urgent challenge, and we need to move fast,” Ball said.