Taking on global food waste with a simple sheet of paper

While the world’s farmers harvest enough food to feed the planet, it is estimated that up to 50% of the global food supply is wasted. Fenugreen is taking on this enormous, yet often overlooked, global challenge with a simple design, FreshPaper. Low-cost, compostable and infused only with organic spices, FreshPaper keeps produce fresh for 2-4x longer, and holds the potential to change how the world keeps its food fresh.

Kavita Shukla, a young inventor and designer, came across an old home remedy after accidentally drinking some tap water while visiting her grandmother in India. Her grandmother gave her a “spice tea,” and when she didn’t get sick, her curiosity was sparked. After years of experimenting with the spices (starting with a middle school science project), she discovered a new application of her grandmother's generations-old home remedy - a remarkably effective way to keep food fresh. She was awarded a patent for FreshPaper at the age of 17. Today FreshPaper is available in stores across the United States, including Whole Foods and Wegmans, and used by farmers and families in over 35 countries.

Shukla founded Fenugreen as a social enterprise to bring FreshPaper to those in need across the globe. FreshPaper is a simple sheet of paper infused with organic spices, which inhibit bacterial and fungal growth; amongst others - fenugreek, which inspired the company’s name - and the ingeniously simple idea has the properties to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer.

As for usage, FreshPaper only needs to be placed wherever the produce is stored – in a refrigerator drawer, fruit bowl, or any other container (in or out of the fridge). Customers have described it as a “dryer sheet for produce” because it does not have to be in direct contact with the produce to work.

“The design is a remarkable way of re-thinking, re-purposing and re-combining an old tradition with industrial knowledge into an easy-to-use everyday consumer product for everyone.” says INDEX: Award jury member Patrick Frick.

"The design is a remarkable way of re-thinking, re-purposing and re-combining an old tradition with industrial knowledge into an easy-to-use everyday consumer product for everyone."

While the world’s farmers harvest enough food to feed the planet, inefficiencies in food distribution leave 800 million hungry and lead to staggering energy and natural resource waste – hundreds of millions of acres of wasted farmland, billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions, trillions of gallons of wasted water and fuel, and countless hours of lost human labor.

Spoilage contributes to major inventory, transportation, and labor inefficiencies across the global food value chain, costing $450 billion in economic losses each year. With 9 billion mouths to feed by 2050, addressing the challenge of food waste is particularly urgent. More than 1 billion people still live without access to basic refrigeration and food spoilage is a burden on the world’s most vulnerable communities: small-scale farmers who struggle to get their harvest to market, and families who cannot afford to eat fresh, healthy food.

FreshPaper wins the INDEX: Award 2013 in the HOME Category for its innovative, scalable approach to this challenge - and for being the first design application of many future applications with tremendous potential to improve lives. FreshPaper focuses on saving food as opposed to producing more. With its simple, sustainable approach it offers a low-cost, intuitive and accessible solution to a complex problem. In a sustainable way, and by simple means, FreshPaper has great potential to reduce the need for refrigerating produce and thus holds the potential to improve the lives of people in the industrialized world and the developing world.

FreshPaper also receives the award for being a transformational design idea that raises global awareness about food waste. The INDEX: Award jury hopes that FreshPaper will help create market demand for smarter food preservation products.

Fenugreen is a remarkable design startup and a proof and inspiration to other young entrepreneurs. Shukla and her co-founder, medical doctor Swaroop Samant, started Fenugreen by setting up stands at local farmer’s markets, selling handmade sheets of FreshPaper. The INDEX: Award jury accordingly also acknowledges its influence on - and inspiration for - a new generation of design entrepreneurs that not only dream about innovation, but also make it happen and do so on a large scale. INDEX: Award will support Fenugreen's next phase of testing, developing and introducing FreshPaper in new applications and to new markets, including the developing world, according to its social mission: "Fresh for All".

It's social mission: "Fresh for All"

Jury Chairman Mikal Hallstrup points out: "FreshPaper is simple, low-tech and hyper affordable, with the potential to scale into new markets. The product has taken off in the United States, but it has immense potential to improve the lives of those living in less developed areas as well, where access to refrigerators is limited. Not only that, but the design is an iconic example of the challenge of food; it's not about producing more but rather about preventing spoilage."

Use of award money
Kavita Shukla and Fenugreen will the use award sum of €100,000 for:

  • Distribution by partnering with NGO's and/or research institutions to distribute FreshPaper in India and/or Africa.
  • Identifying new markets and contexts of use in Africa or India and/or identifying new application contexts, e.g. in non-fridge households or farming.
  • Further research, development and testing (including in the field) to develop new versions and different applications.