MHD speaks with Escavox CEO Luke Wood about the prevalence of food waste, and how we can mitigate the problem with food visibility technology.
In the wake of a compelling new series of the ABC show War on Waste, conversations around food wastage and its ripple effects on society, the economy, and the environment have taken centre stage.
While the show rightly emphasises strategies that consumers can adopt, Luke Wood, CEO of Escavox, believes there’s an untapped dimension to the issue – one hidden deeper within the supply chain.
“Consumers are at the end of the chain and can only work with what’s given to them,” Luke says. “Indeed, while many of us might be alarmed to find that 40 per cent of food waste occurs in our own homes, it’s equally – if not more – startling that an identical percentage of waste happens before these products even leave the farm. Furthermore, a significant 20 per cent gets lost in transit within the supply chain.”
While consumers might do well to be careful with how they consume and handle their food, the issue isn’t just about the end product, but its overall treatment throughout the supply chain.
“By the time it’s in the consumer’s hands, much is already determined,” Luke says. “The bigger picture here calls for a thorough evaluation of the food as it moves along its journey from producer to end-consumer.”
THE MISSING LINK
“Retailers are highly attuned to consumer behaviour, especially where money is concerned,” Luke says. “Particularly when it comes to ‘beacon’ or ‘hero’ products, they’ve got quite sophisticated tracking methodologies. These are items like berries, broccoli, and mushrooms which – due to their popularity and importance – end up setting a sort of quality benchmark for the store. If a retailer gets these right, everything else, commercially speaking, falls into place.”
But while retailers try and adjust dynamically to changing demand signals – thus minimising waste by not oversupplying what’s not wanted – we’re still left with all that food that doesn’t make it from paddock to plate.
And this is precisely where Escavox steps in, whose primary mission is to equip the food industry with pivotal data that can inform smarter decisions.
“Currently, there’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to handling fresh produce,” Luke says. “But, with the right data, better decisions can be made, and faster.”
To minimise waste, everyone in the supply chain – from producers and wholesalers to carriers – needs to maintain a level of flexibility, pivoting strategies based on changing data. Retailers heavily invest in decoding consumer behaviour, while on the other end, growers remain equally engrossed, looking at elements like rainfall, soil content, and sunlight to manage their produce yields.
However, linking these two realms – the consumer preference and the growing conditions – is a singularly crucial aspect that often goes overlooked: the journey of the product.
“Analysing this journey is vital to ensuring consumer satisfaction,” Luke says. “It’s this journey – from farm to shelf – that acts as a critical determiner of food quality and consumer experience. But for many the intricacies of this journey remain relatively opaque.”
In War on Waste it is said that if the world’s food waste constituted a country, it would rank as the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Such comparisons underscore the gravity of the situation and cast a spotlight on the urgent need for innovative solutions. Escavox, while not primarily an environmental enterprise, seems poised to make a substantial difference in this arena.
The core philosophy driving Escavox’s approach to this challenge is surprisingly simple, yet profoundly impactful, as summarised by Luke in the oft-quoted maxim: “If you measure something, you can manage it.”
By implementing this philosophy, Escavox seeks to ascertain the quality and freshness of food throughout its journey – providing the missing data between producer and retailer. Questions like whether the food met its quality specifications or if it remained fresh and edible upon its arrival are central to planning and food supply chain management. Producers don’t want to create waste – that would be bad business. With an effective food visibility solution such as Escavox offers, money can be saved while less waste – and by connection fewer emissions – is put out.
However, it isn’t just about the immediate waste of produce. Luke delves deeper, examining the environmental impact tied to the transportation of food. He highlights the inefficiencies in our current food distribution systems, mentioning the perplexing journey of products like avocados and mangoes. With the only efficiency metric being financial odd things can occur: fresh product is taken from the farm through an extensive network only to be delivered to a supermarket a few kilometres down the road. Luke underscores the environmental implications of this when he says, “It’s alarming to see food items being transported across vast distances only to return to their origin.”
The solution lies not just in scrutinising the financial costs, but in considering the holistic view involved in these extensive movements. If you know more about the food as it moves, you can better plan for and make efficiencies in its journey.
Luke offers as illustration the case of a high-grade beef exporter with whom Escavox dealt. In what initially seems counterintuitive, the data-driven analysis provided by Escavox illuminated a key insight: transporting beef via sea freight was not only more cost-effective but also gentler on the product’s quality as opposed to the pricier airfreight. This might seem counter-intuitive because one would think a faster, direct flight – as opposed to less direct, slower sea travel – would be the common-sense option. But taking the quality considerations into account, as Escavox’s platform makes possible, investigation showed that sea freight was – in the final analysis – more effective on the whole. This realisation ushered in significant cost savings for the client while improving the quality of the product they delivered.
But the beef exporter is not an isolated success story. Several other clients have capitalised on Escavox’s insights, mitigating product rejections by understanding the precise reasons products might not meet retailer or wholesaler criteria. Luke elaborates on another client, a mango producer, who identified pre-cooling issues through the data. The subsequent improvements directly translated to enhanced shelf performance and fostered stronger relationships with retailers.
Knowledge, as they say, is power.
With industry grappling with waste, inefficiencies, and broader environmental concerns, Escavox’s solution steps in with the power of data-driven insights. Producers save money, consumers’ food quality is better assured, transport is economised, and emissions can be lowered.
No matter which way you cut it, it’s a win.
For more information on Escavox, click here.