Prism’s Fresh Fix: Cutting Kitchen Waste & Costs

In the bustling world of restaurant kitchens, food waste is an often overlooked but significant issue. While innovations like cold plasma, cold storage, and edible coatings have extended the shelf-life of produce moving through the supply chain, the challenge intensifies once the produce reaches the restaurant. Utah-based startup Prism aims to address this gap with a novel solution designed to help restaurants minimize food spoilage and reduce waste.

Prism’s founders, Hunter Lindsay and Jacob Zundel, recognized that the innovation in food preservation tends to halt at the back door of restaurants. This realization was the driving force behind their startup, which emerged from a business accelerator at Brigham Young University. Prism is one of six grantees to receive funding through the new ReFED Catalytic Grant Fund, an initiative aimed at tackling food waste in restaurants.

Contrary to popular belief, the principal source of food waste in restaurants is not the leftovers on diners’ plates but rather the food that spoils before chefs can use it. While better inventory management can mitigate this issue, restaurants still face the challenge of unpredictability in customer orders, necessitating some positive inventory to ensure all menu items are available. Lindsay explains, “They need to maintain some positive inventory so they can offer every dish on the menu.”

After surveying a couple of hundred restaurants in Utah, Lindsay and Zundel discovered that many were managing food waste through high-frequency shipments from suppliers. This approach, while effective, is both costly and carbon-intensive. “We would talk to them about food waste, and they would say, ‘Oh, it’s not that much of a problem,’ until we realized their solution was to reach out to US Foods or Sysco and get deliveries every day or every other day,” Lindsay notes. Prism’s goal is to enable restaurants to reduce these shipments to a weekly or bi-weekly basis, thereby saving money and cutting carbon emissions.

Prism’s patent-pending solution is a controlled atmosphere container that can be stored in restaurant walk-in fridges. This technology aims to extend the shelf-life of produce, reduce waste, and potentially lower the frequency of fresh food deliveries. While the specifics of the technology remain under wraps due to pending patents, Lindsay reveals that the device changes various atmospheric conditions to essentially put produce to sleep. The containers can extend the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables by 2-3 times, and in some cases, up to 8 times longer.

Unlike other solutions that create near-vacuums or require industrial setups, Prism’s containers operate at one atmospheric pressure but change out different gases within the container. This is achieved through onboard technology that separates and optimizes gases like CO2, nitrogen, and oxygen. The device also features an app for remote adjustments and a manual dial for different categories of produce.

Additionally, Prism’s technology can eliminate ethylene—a natural plant hormone that triggers ripening—through a specific wavelength of light, without the need for replacement parts. This is complemented by gas filtration technology, a humidification system, and sensors to monitor various atmospheric factors.

As for the business model, Prism is exploring both purchase and lease options for restaurants, with a retail price projected at $700-800 per bin. Lindsay states, “We’re testing this right now with restaurants, but our models project that if a small to medium-sized restaurant implements this system with five bins, they will make back or save $2,500 within a year through reduced frequency of shipments and reduced food waste.”

Feedback from restaurateurs has been positive, as the solution targets a market segment that has been largely untapped. While there are numerous industrial-scale solutions, few specifically cater to restaurants and potentially end consumers.

Prism’s journey has been supported by various grants, and the startup is now looking to raise funds for commercialization. Having tested and validated their system on a small scale, the founders are optimistic about setting up manufacturing quickly. Their innovative approach to food waste has earned them a spot among the latest cohort of grantees in the ReFED Catalytic Grant Fund, alongside other promising startups tackling food waste in unique ways.

By providing a practical and scalable solution, Prism is poised to make a significant impact on food waste in the restaurant industry, offering a more sustainable and cost-effective alternative to frequent shipments and spoilage.

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