Today AgShift, a startup that uses computer vision and deep learning to reduce food waste, announced its first client: RJO Produce Marketing. This news comes just days after AgShift raised $2 million in its first seed round
Agshift uses its technology to attack food waste generated in the supply chain. Right now food inspection is done manually at different points along the food system, with workers literally eyeballing product to assess its quality using their own judgment, which can vary.
“The food supply chain is fragmented,” said Miku Jha, Founder and CEO of AgShift. “Inspections are done by different people at different points.” The results, according to Jha, are “subjective and inconsistent.” One person’s Grade A is another person’s Grade B.
Jha wants to take the subjectivity out of this process with — what else? — a mobile phone app. Instead of just looking at a piece of fruit, inspectors at wholesalers and distributors hold the produce up to the phone’s camera and take a picture (like depositing a check via mobile app, the software guides you for proper positioning). AgShift’s software in the cloud analyzes that image to quantify its bruising, color distribution, average size, mold, etc. to determine its quality.
Using the USDA’s produce guidelines (or a customized set of specifications), AgShift says its software can objectively give fruit its proper rating, and provide precise reasons why it made that choice. According to Jha, this level of consistency throughout food supply chain will deliver higher-quality produce to consumers.
It will also reduce food waste on multiple fronts. AgShift analyzes color distribution better than the human eye. So if, for example, it sees some strawberries that are 90 percent dark red at a shipping point, it can tell suppliers that it is more ripe. Then the suppliers can divert those riper berries to closer destinations, rather than running the risk of them getting spoiled on a cross-country trip.
AgShift can also reduce food waste by removing human judgment from the equation. Right now, vendors and buyers might dispute the rating of a food shipment. This can lead to canceled orders and food getting thrown out. With a computer generated rating, lower quality food can be assessed earlier in the supply chain and re-sold at a lower price or re-purposed, rather than discarded.
Industry watchers may note that AgShift sounds a lot like the Eden technology Walmart recently rolled out at its grocery stores to prevent food waste. Walmart is obviously a giant and a master of the supply chain, but Eden appears to be Walmart-specific. AgShift’s agnostic platform will give it a broad range of potential customers.
AgShift’s platform is already in trial use by a number of companies, the first of which to be publicly announced is RJO Produce Marketing. According to the press release, RJO provides “quality assurance inspections, in-depth market analysis and category management services for key perishable commodities.”
While the two million raised by AgShift is a rounding error for a company like Walmart, it’s just the start for this startup. The Sunnyvale-based company was founded two years ago and currently has 12 people working in their California and India offices. Jha said the money will be used to fund R&D and expedite the product.
Jha’s mission with AgShift is a global one. As she points out, we spend a lot of time talking about growing more food for a growing population — but a good first step is reducing the amount of food we waste right now.