Chennai native Deepak Rajmohan was working for a company in the US when he stumbled upon an article detailing food waste statistics. Deepak, who did his Master’s in Food Science and is employed in the food industry, was disturbed to see that India loses 40 per cent of its fruits and vegetables even before reaching the consumer.
In mid-2019, the 29-year-old returned to his home country to work on innovation to minimise food spoilage. “I always wanted to get back to India and felt that it was the right time with a perfect aim. I travelled for about three months through the villages of Tamil Nadu to meet and speak to farmers, distributors, shopkeepers and whoever is involved in the chain of food supply. This made me realise several matters,” says Deepak to The Better India.
Firstly, he understood that many do not use a cold storage facility because of its expense and maintenance. Therefore, only a cost-effective and convenient alternative can save produce. Secondly, he has seen successful innovations in the US that solve food spoilage. “The product we are developing is unique for the Indian perspective and not looking at the solution from the US,” clarifies Deepak.
After three months of research, a prototype was launched in May 2020. He used natural plant extracts to activate the inbuilt defence mechanism, which slows down the ripening rate and minimises microbial growth, thus extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.
A European based company called Rockstart AgriFood invested in his idea, and one year later, Deepak got a co-founder, Vijay Anand, a long-time friend of the innovator.
Thus, GreenPod Labs, an agri-biotech startup, began its work officially with the dream of creating a zero food spoilage country.
What is the innovation?
The company intends to provide cost-effective packaging solutions. A biotech-based packaging sachet that extends the shelf life of each vegetable and fruit is the star innovation. It erases the need for cold storage or cold supply chains. This innovation will benefit farmers, distributors, retailers, and e-commerce platforms with crop-specific solutions that increase their shelf life at ambient temperatures.
The sachets are entirely eco-friendly. Thus, creating a sustainable choice has been another goal of the company. “Apart from this, helping the farmers to get a better price for their produce and make fresh food veggies/ fruits available to customers are other factors we thrive for,” says Vijay, the co-founder and chief business officer of GreenPod Labs.
“We commercially launched our first product for mangoes in April 2022. Other products will take a few more months,” shares Deepak. “The price of sachets will depend upon the type and quantity of the produce. For example, one kilogram of mango can be stored in a sachet worth Rs 5; for capsicum, it is Rs 4/kg; for tomato Rs 1.25/ kg; for strawberry Rs 15/ kg and so on.”
The co-founder adds that the trials with customers gave successful and exciting results. “In the early stage of product development, the cut down of spoilage was around 30 per cent. Now it has increased to 80 – 90 per cent.”
The shelf life of vegetables and fruits can be increased upto 12 days. “This purely depends on what the item is. For tomato, the extension would be 8-10 days, mango 10-12 days and capsicum 8-9 days,” adds Deepak.
According to the founders, the major beneficiaries of this innovation will be farmers. “If a farmer invests Rs 1 in our product, they will get a return of Rs 10 for sure,” he claims. “So sustainability is one aspect, and lending a helping hand to farmers is the other.”
The company received several grants from inside and outside India. Recently, they got Rs 4.05 Crore investment from Indian Angel Network (IAN) with Rockstart Agrifood and she1K as co-investors. The founders explain that the amount is planned to be spent on three aspects. One, more research and development; two, for scaling up the operations and; three, launching four new products.
The eadquarters of GreenPod Labs is situated in Chennai, and it employs 15 people. “We are all set to launch the existing products all over India and work more on the upcoming products,” says the excited entrepreneur.
Interested in the company and their products? Check out their website.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)