NU Grad Students Explore Solutions for Food Waste in Brazil

After an introduction from a mutual acquaintance, Jeff Klein of The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) and Jamie Jones, Assistant Director of the Social Enterprise at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, discussed ways the two organizations might collaborate. Jones suggested GFN consider working with a group of her students in an Innovate for Impact class she was teaching that would be doing work in Brazil, an area where GFN has been involved with food banks.

A diverse team of graduate students at Northwestern University, across various disciplines, have developed a social venture idea, “Ligação Fresco,” to eliminate food waste in Brazil. Food waste is a significant problem, from produce wasted in harvesting, packing, and distribution, to retailers discarding below-standard products.

The team spent two weeks meeting with companies across the food supply chain in Brazil to build the firsthand knowledge necessary to address the overarching research question: “How might we help landfill bound food find it way to those who need it, in ways that build the value for under-resourced entities?”

“It was an extraordinary opportunity to visit a country whose economy is growing and culture is evolving so rapidly,” said Saloni Doshi, Class of 2012 at Kellogg School of Management. “Brazil’s food supply chain is very unique in that it has some characteristics of developing countries (such as poor distribution infrastructure) and some of developed countries (such as increasingly high cosmetic standards for produce). The ideas were generated and business solution put forth could therefore be applied to so many different cultures and economies.”

GFN provided research material and acted as a sounding board for the business, journalism, and engineering design students on a project to fill a critical market gap for sellers and buyers. Food banks acquire an increasing amount of highly nutritious food including dairy products, animal proteins, and produce from grocery stores prior to shelf life expiration. This intervention saves a tremendous amount of food from landfill and the destructive methane that it produces.

In a simple, automated online experience, “Ligação Fresco” is a virtual marketplace for unsalable produce. Types of products, culling date, quality, and pricing are listed. Retailers, aggregators, packhouses indicate on an online portal what excess product they have available to purchase by processors who manage the logistics. By Year 5, “Ligação Fresco” is projected to facilitate over 1.6 million transactions annually and generate $2.6 million in revenue, while eliminating 30,000 tons of CO2 emissions. The students estimate that $40,000 will be needed to cover the lean startup phase.

“It’s exciting to see multidisciplinary teams of students thinking about how to create businesses that address some of the world’s most challenging problems.  This team really leveraged the design process to understand the needs of the end user and create a platform that meets those needs. ” said Jamie Jones, the instructor for the course in which the students are enrolled. 

Interestingly, one of the students participating in the project is spending time in India this summer. He was quite inspired by the food banking concept, and GFN is arranging a visit to the newly launched Delhi Food Bank it helped to develop, the first such food bank in India.


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