Today, produce life extension startup Hazel Technologies named Parker Booth as its new CEO. Booth, who has had a varied career in produce distribution, vertical farming, as well as a stint as general manager of Washington State Correctional Industries, takes on the new role after serving three-plus years as the company’s chief operating officer.
Booth, who has been in the role of CEO on a temporary basis, takes over the role permanently as he replaces Aidan Mouat, who was involved in an accident last September that left the company’s founding CEO fighting for his life. The accident, in which a motorist struck Mouat as he was out walking his dogs (both dogs were killed in the accident) in a suburb of Chicago, has left Mouat unable to fulfill the role as he is still in active recovery. According to Booth, Mouat will remain as an advisor to the company.
I caught up with Booth last week to talk about the state of the company and where he sees things going under his leadership.
Can you give me an update on Hazel and what’s been happening over the past year?
We’re an eight-year-old company, and we’re past the stage of ‘does our technology work?’ It’s been proven that it does. It’s now one of customer adoption and executing our scale-up plans. We’re excited about that. We’ve added some new technology through the acquisition of a company’s assets last year that extend the shelf life of berries, and large berry growers are really latching on to this.
How does this new product differ from Hazel’s sachet product?
The intellectual property is a membrane about 10 inches by 10 inches. When you take a pallet of a product like berries, you put this giant bag over the top of it, seal it up, and then inject CO2 in the membrane. Again, it’s very similar to the concept of breathable saddlebags, as you’re allowing co2 to transmit through that membrane and equilibrates at a certain level that inhibits decay for berries, for raspberries in particular. It’s a really proven technology, and we’re excited about that. We’re going to be looking at bananas in Southeast Asia. It has a pallet option, but has a carton option, a little smaller bag with a smaller membrane. And so that just gives us a lot more conversations with the customers.
So Hazel is now a life extension technology company, essentially, with a variety of tools.
Yes, so far in our life, we’ve had 5 billion pounds of produce we’ve used our detection technology on, and we’ve eliminated 400 million pounds in waste. We like to track that metric because that’s our mission.
But that’s it. Shelf life extension that reduces yield loss. And that becomes an actual, very objective data point for the owner of the product. So we can say we’re going to save you ‘X dollars per carton’ or per shipment by using Hazel. That’s a bottom line benefit for them. That savings goes right to the customer’s bottom line.
Can you give me an update on the sachet business?
We had our first customer five years ago, and it’s been ramping up ever since. One change we made is that at the beginning, we were producing our product internally, making our secret sauce, and packing the sachets. About two years ago, we began to outsource manufacturing to third-party contract manufacturer who specializes in this. They use our recipe, they use our quality standards, and we check them on all that. We did this because they can scale to the volume that we need to keep up with the business.
For those who aren’t familiar with your sachet product, can you explain how it works?
There’s a component in there called 1-MCP (short for 1–Methylcyclopropene). It’s been around for a long time, and what we do is combine the 1-MCP into that secret sauce – which has different sorts of materials – into a sachet, and that becomes a very slow release. That’s the benefit of our product. What happens is we attach the materials through a vapor to the ethylene (the natural ripening hormone in fruit) receptors that actually emit ethylene in a product and stop the ethylene from being created.
What other products do you have?
We actually have a product called Datica that senses ethylene, it senses 1-MCP, and so it’s instant feedback for apple long-term storage. It’s an internet-connected device and software that traces the levels of 1-MCP and, as a result, detects the real-time level of the ethylene.
Another product called Hazel Trex is focused on pre-harvest. What that does is it allows growers of, say, kiwis to predict within a day or two accuracy when the bud is going to bloom for kiwis. Now, why is that important? They could hit it with nutrients just prior to that if they knew exactly when it’s going to be. So it’s a cost savings for them.
Was one of the goals after the last funding round to diversify the product portfolio as you become a more mature company?
It was to build out our fundamentals, and expand our product line, but also expand the countries that we’re in. We’re trying to get the footprint expanded. It’s very important in the produce world that you’re in the southern hemisphere as well as the northern hemisphere. That way, you get a year-round cycle, a year-round supply for, say, table grapes. A grower might have table grapes coming out of Peru, which are just ending now, and now you move on to table grapes coming out of California for the US market. We have a plan that, in the next five years, we will be in 23-plus countries with various products.
Thank you for your time.