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This food tech startup wants to keep the world's bananas and avocados fresher longer

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Hazel Technologies, a Chicago-based startup that created a small drop-in packet to keep bananas and other produce from turning prematurely brown, is starting to produce a lot of green.

The 6-year-old company announced Tuesday it raised $70 million in a completed investment round, financing ambitions to grow Hazel into an international food tech powerhouse.

“For the next five years or so, we will be launching our products in every major agronomy on Earth,” said Hazel CEO Aidan Mouat, 34. “That’s kind of the brand ambition for the moment.”

The mission is to extend the life of billions of pounds of fresh produce each year, preventing spoilage from grower to grocer to your kitchen counter. Hazel works with more than 160 companies across 12 countries, with major customers such as Mission Avocado, the world’s largest distributor of fresh avocados; Zespri, the world’s biggest kiwifruit distributor; and Oppy, Canada’s largest produce distributor.

The product delivers an odorless vapor in sugar-packet sized inserts called sachets. When dropped in bulk boxes of produce, the sachet can as much as triple shelf life, the company said.

In addition to growers, several national grocery chains use the Hazel product to keep produce fresher longer.

 

Founded in 2015 by a group of Northwestern University graduate students, Hazel expects to double its head count to about 60 employees this year — most at its headquarters at University Technology Park, a startup innovation hub on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus.

The company is outgrowing its current headquarters and plans to relocate to a larger Chicago space within the next 12 months, Mouat said.

In 2019, 35% of all food in the U.S. went unsold or uneaten, and the food waste problem was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to ReFED, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit that seeks solutions to reduce food waste. Most of wasted food ends up in landfills.

This year, Hazel projects its product will be used with more than 6.3 billion pounds of produce, preventing more than 500 million pounds from going to waste.

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