After learning that the majority of food waste happens in the home, I’ve been trying to take conscious steps to cut down on the amount of food I throw away — buying only what I need, cooking with scraps, etc. By far the biggest struggle is produce — no matter how carefully I plan to use up all my bananas, tomatoes, and avocados, I usually end up with at least a few rotting and ending up in the compost. Sorry, I am a flawed human.
A new startup out of Portland, Oregon is trying to give me and other aspirational folks a longer lead time to use up their produce before it goes bad. Called Produce Mate, the company makes antimicrobial kitchen mats that contain minerals that fight the bacteria responsible for spoilage of fruits and vegetables. Place the mat — which is the same size as a sheet of paper — on the counter or in your fridge, store your produce on top, and your fruits and veggies will stay fresh for longer.
How much longer? According to Produce Mate’s founder Dagan Kay, who I spoke to on the phone earlier this week, they don’t have any exact numbers yet. The company is currently in the midst of gathering data on how the mat will affect the lifetime of various fruits and vegetables. “It’s a tough thing to predict (or advertise) because every fruit ‘n veggie is different and results will always vary,” he told me. Kay did, however, cited one study they’d done in which fruits and vegetables stored on the Produce Mate mat lasted 40 percent longer than those stored on a counter alone.
Produce Mate recently launched on Kickstarter with a goal of $15,000. Backers can nab a single mat for $25 with an estimated ship date of July 2020. The mats come with suggested “cut-to-fit” lines in case it doesn’t slot easily into your fridge. Kay told me if successful, he plans to sell the mats for $30 MSRP both online and through retail partners by the end of this year.
Produce Mate is bootstrapped right now, and Kay said that the company needs the Kickstarter funds before it can order its first large-scale run of the mats. As always, crowdfunded hardware companies come with a strict “buyer beware” caveat — especially at a time when COVID-19 is putting up extra obstacles for manufacturing.
Other companies are also fighting home food waste by tackling produce lifespan. The most similar to Produce Mate is StixFresh, which makes a small sticker that exudes plant compounds that keep bacteria from forming on fresh fruit and vegetables. Further upstream in the supply chain, Hazel Technologies and Apeel are extending produce life with packaging inserts and edible coating, respectively.
Kay is aware of these competitors and said that Produce Mat differentiates itself in two major ways. Firstly, it doesn’t require any behavior change on the part of the consumer — no stickers to add to your bananas, no nothing. The mats are also long-lasting — they stay effective for over two years — which means less stuff ends up in the trash. “I didn’t want to save fruit and vegetables from the landfill just to add something else to it,” he told me.
Kay explained that for many consumers it’s easy to get overwhelmed when facing as daunting a challenge as food waste. But the Produce Mate, he told me, could catalyze real change because “it’s tangible and simple proof that cumulative action actually makes a difference.” Time will tell if it’ll help people like me do better at using up those bananas before they go bad.