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Bringing the Environmental Fight to Food Waste

By Margarida Marques

We humans waste food. A lot of it. In fact, about 30% of all the food we produce each year is either wasted or lost. For the wealthier nations, the number climbs to 40%.

In addition to the missed opportunities to assist the vulnerable and stressed regions and peoples of the world, that 30% figure translates to the wasted use of land comparable to the size of Canada. The amount of water wasted equated to about three times the size of Lake Geneva. And the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions that steams up from rotting food equates to comparable emissions from about 33 million cars (in the U.S. alone).

In addition to the well-known food and water shortages in many developing countries, climate change is catching up with everyone and starting to impose a shift in food production – leading even to the rationing of supplies. Solutions are needed now more than ever to fight the waste problem.

This is where the Hitachi Vantara Global Delivery Centre in Portugal comes in. In 2019, we were approached to help accelerate the digital growth and transformation of Ocean Insight, whose broad mission is to solve many of the key challenges facing our world. Its companies work within at least one of three scopes: healthcare, safety/environment, and sustainability.

Long known for its leadership in spectroscopy hardware, the company developed an algorithm through which it could measure the amount of water and minerals in a tomato. With this algorithm and the data that it generated it was able to infer the tomato’s shelf-life. The work was so compelling that in 2019, several leaders formed a separate group through a digital incubation hub from Halma, Ocean Insight’s parent company, called OneThird (a name inspired by the amount of food wasted each year).

Not long after, Hitachi Vantara partnered with OneThird to help bring the solution to the cloud through the development of a mobile application. The app would have to be easy enough for produce employees within grocery stores and supermarkets to use.

With this innovative non-invasive molecular assessment solution, the hope was that grocery stores would be able to improve inventory stock management and product placement, based on real-time shelf-life management. Ripening produce, for example, could be positioned immediately with a discount due to shorter spans or more to the background if food could hold out for longer.

Together our companies continually collaborated on the solution, connecting hardware and algorithms, implementing cloud migration, taking technical calls, and architecting scalability. The work led to the successful development of a “minimal viable product” which led to the final product – but one with a lot of growth potential.

From Thumping Melons to Scanning Tomatoes

So how exactly does this technology work? With a portable scanner in hand, a store or fresh supply chain worker selects the type of food to be inspected. The produce is scanned on a molecular level – analyzing water, sugar and starch content – using non-destructive, near-infrared sensing technology and AI algorithms to predict the number of days the produce has left before it spoils. The worker is notified in real-time and can take the most effective next steps to decide on the final retail destinations of the fresh produce or redirect to alternative purposes like dry freezing or processing into soups and sauces.

This is a far cry from the days of thumping watermelons to test for ripeness.

And the company is not resting. It has expanded its focus from retail groups to the entire value chain, literally from farm to table. In addition, the company has added the ability for farmers to introduce information into the app to make stores aware of particular conditions of certain produce. In addition, the company has introduced route optimization. Based on a product’s shelf-life, it now allows retailers to effectively set up distribution routes according to the selling points’ proximity. The range of fruits it can analyze has also been broadened significantly.

You can find the OneThird solution in supermarkets across the Netherlands, Germany and Canada. OneThird’s ultimate aim is to empower consumers to make more informed decisions whenever they’re shopping for produce.

This could not be more aligned with Hitachi’s mission of Powering Good, and we are proud to be an intrinsic part of such a remarkable project that perfectly encapsulates what it is to work towards social innovation with technology that benefits society.

Margarida Marques is Vice President, Portugal Country Lead & Head of Continental Europe Hitachi Vantara. 

Related

  • Press Release: Hitachi Vantara and OneThird Fight Supermarket Food Waste with First-of-its-Kind Digital Solution
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