Imperfect Produce

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Overview

Imperfect Produce is an organic grocery delivery startup that sells produce that would otherwise be discarded due to cosmetic imperfections. 20% of consumable food is wasted in the US because it is not visually appealing enough for grocery stores to display on shelves and farmers just discard these items to waste. The business model behind Imperfect Produce and its competitors which include Misfit Foods and others is a simple one: buy this produce that would otherwise be discarded for pennies on the dollar from farmers and sell to consumers for 30-50% less than market price. To be clear the produce they are buying is just as healthy and nutritious as what’s in grocery stores, it simply has some sort of visual (often minor) imperfection.

Orders are placed through a subscription box model online or via their mobile app. They are a double bottom line organization, which are becoming more popular as business entities.

The team is based in San Francisco, California.

Why I like Them

I like the mission and the problem they are trying to solve. In the US alone an estimated 30% of the consumable produced food goes to waste, a staggering and shocking amount, especially when considering the environmental impact and amount of energy needed to produce all this food. One recent study estimates very year, 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of water, and nearly two billion pounds of fertilizer are used to grow food that’s never eaten,

I also like that they give easy access to high end organic produce for even those in the lower income spectrum, and helping small farmers with produce they would otherwise dispose of and take a monetary loss on.

Emerging Trend: Carbon Capture

With global warming from climate change accelerating there are a set of technologies and solutions emerging to hopefully address the challenge. NASA keeps a real time tracker of the effects of climate change here. One of the most direct and more science fiction like that is still nascent but in the pilot phase is carbon capture. Carbon capture is a set of technologies that is able to pull carbon dioxide from the air and store it back underground, hypothetically turning the clock back on global warming.

There are three startups on the cutting edge of carbon capture technologies - Global Thermostat, Climeworks, and Carbon Engineering. Their technology is based around exposing filters to air, that once saturated, are heated to free the carbon dioxide and pump it into tanks or back underground.

All three have working technologies that do this, the challenge right now is to find a business model that makes this a profitable activity. Substantial progress has been made in the last several years with the average cost falling from $600 per ton of captured CO2 to $100 a ton.

Critical to this effort right now are government tax credits that give back up to $50 for every ton of carbon stored underground. The improved efficiency of the technology and federal tax credits has captured the attention of big oil, who can use the recaptured CO2 to increase well pressure for oil extraction.

The next wave of carbon capture includes using the reclaimed carbon dioxide in transportation fuels by mixing it with hydrogen, reducing the carbon emissions of vehicle fuels by up to 20% in the next decade.

Currently the scale these firms are operating on is esmall but as they become profitable the hope is to scale up and start capturing noticeable amounts of greenhouse gases, hopefully slowing down global warming.

Limex (TBM Co.)

Overview

TBM Co. (DBA Limex)  is a Tokyo materials and cleantech startup that caught my eye with an innovative product called Limex. Limex is a new material made from limestone (yes the rock) that can be used to make paper and plastic.  Currently 1 ton of normal paper requires 100 tons of water and 20 trees to produce whereas Limex paper requires no water or wood pulp.  It is also recyclable.  The original version of this technology is derived from a product known as Stone Paper developed in Taiwan in the late 1990s.  Version 2.0 of this technology, Limex, is much lighter, thinner, cheaper, with a paper-like texture.  In stereotypical fashion, the Japanese have taken a product from elsewhere and solved its primary challenges while making made it better and cheaper.

Limex paper is much harder to bend, tear, is age-resistant, and waterproof compared to regular paper (it can even be written on under water).  The company's primary product today is Limex paper business cards.  They also manufacture menus, posters, stickers, and other paper products.  The company is beginning to investigate Limex as a foundation material for other applications including cloth, and as a building material.

As a plastic Limex is also unique in that most plastics are composite materials whereas Limex plastic can be made into films and sheets.  Similar petroleum derived plastics are much pricier.

The firm was founded at the end of 2011 and is currently less than 100 employees.  The founder is Nobuyoshi Yamasaki, a true entrepreneur in the jack of all trades sense - he has been a carpenter, used car dealer owner, and serial entrepreneur of a number of different businesses.

Why I like Them

Frankly, the technology here is just very cool and novel.  Turning stone into plastic and paper in an environmentally friendly fashion is true product innovation.  Even better they have patents in 43 countries.

From a business perspective TBM Co. has a very long and steep mountain ahead.  Although the product is one of the most innovative I've seen recently, it will be a very hard sell, for them to scale beyond niche applications - regular wood derived paper is cheap, plentiful, and has a number of large established incumbents.  

Limex is a more advanced version of a Taiwanese developed product called Stone Paper that in the decades it has been out has only found limited, niches applications.  The main issues with the original Stone Paper product that Limex solves were it was heavy, expensive, with high manufacturing defect rates.  However, consumers who used the initial version of the product reported high customer satisfaction.  Limex appears be better marketed and distributed while solving the issues of the parent product.  At the same time Limex's ability to also be a plastic substitute may open interesting new applications.

LiMex paper and Limex plastic

LiMex paper and Limex plastic

Disclosure:  All information is from publicly available sources, I have not had any contact with a member of the company or its investors.