Amazon continues to explore ways to dominate the $700 billion grocery market, and this time the commerce giant is turning to military-grade food tech to gain an edge on competitors. Reuters is reporting on Amazon’s interest in a partnership with 915 Labs, a startup based in Denver that’s commercializing a technology known as MATS -- or microwave assisted thermal sterilization. MATS is a process that takes prepared food and using a specific heating technique, eliminates food pathogens and microorganisms that cause spoilage.
According to Reuters, the process involves taking “sealed packages of food in pressurized water and heating them with microwaves for several minutes.” A sort of sous vide on steroids, the technique was developed at the University of Washington and received FDA approval in 2012 as a safe way to preserve fresh foods.
MATS replaces traditional preservation techniques which often entail heating foods at high temperatures for up to an hour, significantly damaging the quality and taste of the food. 915 Labs, the startup that’s trademarked MATS, says to solve the problem of damaged foods, companies add things like “salt, flavor, texture and color enhancers, and other unnatural ingredients” to make the foods edible again.
Packaged food has to have a long shelf life in order for dry goods companies to make money -- but the game changing element is taste. With MATS, companies could potentially make packaged food appealing again, in an era where the heavy consumer focus is on healthier, fresher options. Which brings us to Amazon.
With Amazon Pantry, Dash replenishment services, the purchase of Whole Foods and the use of machine learning and AI to run next-gen stores, Amazon is all in on the grocery game. And while the company is still working on ways to compete in the fresh foods game, Amazon is taking prime real estate in the middle of the grocery store with dry goods.
And besides boxed snack foods and household items, what lives in the middle of the grocery store? Prepared and packaged foods. From frozen dinners to soups, pasta mixes and “just add water” foods, the center aisles are generally filled with sodium-laden offerings that can be bought and sit in pantries for months.
As Amazon looks at building its own meal kit delivery service(see Mike’s Amazon meal kit review), there’s a clear interest in developing its own line of foods that take advantage of Amazon’s massive e-commerce infrastructure but also don’t require the large investment that fresh food transportation and storage often do, particularly in the form of refrigeration.
And without additives and sodium, MATS produced packaged foods could still stay on the shelf just as long but taste much better and be comparatively healthier than their traditionally preserved counterparts.
The research that led to the development of MATS was funded by several large food companies, including Nestle, General Mills, Delmonte and Pepsi, all of whom also play a big role in dry goods and groceries. But now 915 Labs owns the exclusive rights to MATS and its sister process, MAPS or microwave assisted pasteurization sterilization which is a faster way to pasteurize foods like dairy and baby food.
Reuters reports that consumers are unlikely to see MATS-created packaged foods from Amazon until 2018 -- and maybe even later depending on how the company decides to integrate the technology with its current offerings. It’s clear that the omnichannel retailer has big plans for food domination in the future.