The growing issue of food waste has become a pandemic in itself, particularly since COVID first swept the world. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, over 1.3 billion tonnes of food (over a third) is discarded every year. In addition to this, figures from the World Wildlife Federation have revealed we could curb around six to eight percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, if we, the human race collectively made an effort to reduce the level of foods hitting landfills.
A recent boom in food tech has placed sustainability at the heart of app functionality. Edible waste has become such a significant issue that research from Statistica shows the food technology market to be worth over 193 billion euros. One entrepreneur who is passionate about connecting the dots between technology and food sustainability is Data Expert, CEO and Co-founder of RapidPricer, Kiran Gange. Having witnessed the destruction of tropical forests in India and learning about the hard hitting impact of food waste on the environment, Kiran developed his company to help mitigate growing landfill levels through dynamic pricing which is now used in supermarkets across the globe.
RapidPricer processes data from point-of-sale systems and various IoT devices to make automated merchandising decisions on behalf of retailers. This means that the price of produce decreases as its shelf life shortens, resulting in higher consumer purchase rates and lower food wastage. Computed prices are then cleverly displayed dynamically on electronic shelf labels, which are updated in real time. The concept of real-time pricing has worked particularly well for the entrepreneur with fresh produce items that deteriorate in a matter of days.
We interviewed the environmentally conscious tech entrepreneur about data, edibles, nature, point-of-sale systems, IoT devices and the metaverse.
Where did the concept for RapidPricer come from?
I had worked in retail pricing for many years, and I realized every retailer was going through the same learning and process to arrive at good pricing decisions. The future of pricing had to be automated, and real-time automated pricing was what we really wanted to do. Upon research and analysis, we found products with a short life cycle, such as fresh produce, can benefit the most by real-time pricing. I always wanted to do something to conserve nature, having previously volunteered for bird and nature conservation efforts. We originally began price consulting for retail profit, later pivoting to build a product for food waste reduction through price automation. This provided us with a strong direction that the team was very enthusiastic about pursuing.
However, when we tried to raise investments for this vision in 2015 through our previous consulting venture CustoLogix Inc, the investors did not like investing in consulting businesses. Hence we created a product company for the same vision – RapidPricer. We later moved to the Netherlands in 2018 as real-time pricing and automation requires electronic shelf labels on retail shelves. At the time, this didn’t exist in the US, however it was present in many parts of Europe.
Where did your interest in helping mitigate food begin?
My interest in helping the wider environment began after witnessing the unfortunate destruction of tropical forests in India’s pristine jungles of the Western Ghats. Nature, conservation and global warming have been topics I always wanted to address directly with my everyday activities. I was surprised to learn food waste was one of the largest contributors to global warming, and read that some products such as bananas see up to 50% wastage between production and consumption. In 2014, I also ran a small convenience store as a side venture and saw baskets of unsold vegetables being thrown into trash cans every day. I identified this moment as an opportunity to reduce waste and, finally I realized ways in which I could contribute to mitigating global warming.
What have been the biggest challenges to date in developing RapidPricer?
For RapidPricer, its success depends on many factors such as retail pricing, technology, people management and business development skills. I have to have a strong knowledge of retail pricing, technology, people management, fundraising and business development skills. While the core team and I did a really good job of developing the product and getting it ready for a launch, we really weren’t very good at business development in European business culture. All our previous successes had come from strong relationships. However, all those relationships were back in the United States and Mexico. Although we won multiple awards on product technology and innovation, we had trouble selling our solution to large retailers in Europe. This situation was further compounded with the Covid travel restrictions, which meant further delays, which were frustrating. Luckily, we were able to launch our solution back in our stronghold of Mexico, which gave us the necessary validation and case studies that allow us to grow eventually in the European markets.
Which types of food waste benefit most from automated retail pricing?
The foods that tend to do best when it comes to real time pricing and waste are products such as tomatoes, broccoli, and cabbage, each of which have really short life cycles that result in high waste, resulting in global warming and serious losses for the retailer. Then there are meats and packaged products like sandwiches and salads which need to be sold by a certain date. Food waste can be reduced by better utilising technology, and automating the pricing/discounts on these products based on their shelf lives.
What developments in food waste technology can we expect to see in the next five years?
Many innovations in Agri Tech are being developed to produce the right products in the right quantity, at the right time. Artificial Intelligence will help in many aspects of food waste reduction, such as forecasting, optimizing supply chain decisions, analyzing satellite data and images to manage crops, and using intelligent vision systems to scan the quality of fresh produce on conveyor belts, warehouses and retail shelves. For example, some sensors built on the latest James Webb Telescope can detect a bumblebee on the moon from the earth. When applied to real-world challenges, these technologies can help us reduce waste to minimum levels.
What are your ambitions for RapidPricer?
Our vision is to create a world where people gain more value and create less waste from every product purchased through innovation and technology. The future of retail is moving towards the consumers directly obtaining the product from the producer without the need for a “retailer” as we recognize today. Through rapidly growing technologies such as the Metaverse, consumers will choose through a much larger assortment from their chosen places. Our ambition is to enable the perfect price for every transaction, whether in-store and online today or in a virtual world tomorrow.