Episode 237: Katherine Sizov, Jay Jordan and Shebaz Singh

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Episode 237 featured image


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We talk a lot about sustainability and food waste here at The Produce Moms and have had some incredible guests on the show with valuable solutions. But the produce industry has been missing something, and that’s a solution that’s focused on produce itself. Instead of a sustainable packaging solution, new film or coating, or a way to extend a product’s shelf life, Strella is thinking differently. As Shebaz Singh, Vice President of Strella says, “we are going to read and listen to what the piece of produce is saying to us, then organize or reorganize the way it needs to be sent through the supply chain.”

Shebaz points out that the entire research community has looked at what to constrict, what chemicals to block, how to pack or improve supply chain parameters, but no one has looked at what information each piece of produce is relaying to us. Strella uses sensors after a product comes out of harvest to “listen” and “hear” what is happening to that particular piece of produce in a measured period of time to then correlate that with the freshness of the product and relay this information through the entire supply chain. 

Strella has made incredible strides for being established just four years ago. Katherine Sizov, CEO and Co-Founder ignited the idea for Strella during her Junior year at University of Pennsylvania. Instead of focusing on her next steps towards grad school, she started skipping class and visiting farms, fields and orchards. Reading about the food supply chain and that 40% of food goes to waste annually, she set out to learn about the process of growing an apple and bringing it to retail stores. After speaking to many different growers, packers and distributors, she formulated the idea for Strella. A year and a half later, she met Jay, Co-Founder and COO, who had experience at Dupont with apple and cherry growers. To date, Strella has raised 11.5 million dollars to date, with backers like Mark Cuban and Yamaha, and has now monitored over two billion pieces of fruit!  Episode 237 graphic quote 2 Strella got its start with apple and pear packing, and now works with the majority of major marketing groups for Washington State apples. Oftentimes the apple you’re buying at the grocery store was picked close to a year ago. The reason we have apples 365 days a year is because they’re placed in huge storage rooms that are dark, cold and only have 1% oxygen. Considering there could be about 5 million apples being stored in one batch, it’s difficult to know what is going on while they’re being stored, leaving growers vulnerable to losing a ton of money in the process. Growers already spend a ton of time and resources trying to get the perfect piece of produce to the retailer, but that doesn’t mean it’s reaching the consumer. You can think of the produce supply chain like the Emergency Room. If the ER was on a “first come, first serve” basis, that doesn’t equate to who is most likely to die soon. It’s the same with apples. If a retailer has 10 lots of apples in storage, it’s very likely that the apples that will go bad first are not the ones that were received first. Retailers don’t have the information necessary to make the right decisions about which apples to put on shelves first, which can give growers a bad rap if consumers aren’t getting their produce at the right time, a problem Strella is able to fix with the launch of their automated quality management platform.

“I think produce is the most important category at the grocery store. 92% of consumers pick their grocery store based on the quality of produce it provides.” Katherine Sizov (32:52-33:00) 

The team is also moving on to other fruit, like bananas. “Everyone knows the ripening of bananas is more of an art than a science, so we’re now bringing the science element to it,” Katherine Sizov says, which we can all agree upon! Speaking to dozens of banana ripeners, Strella noticed that every single one of them had a different sense of what a banana in stage two of ripening versus stage three looks like. Strella is using quantifiable, non-subjective data sets around what the color of a ripe banana is to pass on to stakeholders in the supply chain and retailers, to help reduce waste and provide consumers with the high quality produce they’re looking for. Improving things like the consistency of color in bananas and the quality of produce a consumer is eating is going to help grow the produce industry and how consumers feel about eating produce. Strella’s automated quality platform takes information from the grower and sends it to retailers to guarantee the quality of the produce on the shelf is better based on quantifiable data. Growers have so much valuable knowledge about their produce, and this platform gives retailers the same knowledge that inevitably tells them what piece of produce to sell first. If a grower can share their best quality of produce every single time, and retailers are providing it to consumers, this will grow the entire produce category by reducing waste and increasing consumers’ desires to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“What Strella is doing is empowering the entire produce supply chain operation because growers are spending millions of dollars and decades of time investing in new apple varieties simply to find the variety that is going to taste good, but more importantly, about what apple is grower friendly, able to sit in storage and come out nine months later tasting like it fell right off the tree. Strella is that missing link.” Lori Taylor (21:41-22:22)  

Strella recently completed a trial with their quality management platform, and they were able to extend the fresh life of a product by 40%! Again, that was without any new packaging, new coatings, or creating a new variety of the product. It was simply done by using data that helps the supply chain rearrange inventory. This gives us, the consumer, healthier food that is at its freshest and best tasting quality and helps reduce waste on a grand scale. You can find out more about Strella’s incredible innovation at: https://www.strellabiotech.com

How to get involved

  • Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
  • Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.

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About Lori

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

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