Food waste processors as alternative to landfill: Interview with FoodCycler CEO Brad Crepeau

Samuel Howarth, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: Food Cycle Science

Food Cycle Sciences, a Canadian company that produces FoodCycler, the kitchen waste processor, is planning to expand its market in Taiwan via a local partner.

The company's CEO, Brad Crepeau, said his company is trying to find a user experience that promotes customers wanting to recycle food waste. "I think before there were food cyclers, it wasn't a super fun and clean thing to do," he added.

The company introduces itself on its website as a team of scientists that has invented a countertop food waste recycler with the modest goal of eliminating the world's food waste once and for all. The company's Facebook page states that the FoodCycler is an electric food waste recycler, which is often confused with being an electric composter.

When speaking to DIGITIMES Asia about the move, Crepeau said, "It's our first true international expansion, and so it's one we're really excited about."

Crepeau said that the company launched the first household unit in North America in 2016. "2018 is when we really started to heavily invest in research and development," he added.

"We saw that there was a market fit and that there was a need and a want for this type of solution," Crepeau explained. "But we recognize that there were gaps in the technology and if we were to have the success internationally, that Food Cycle Science wanted to achieve, we needed to improve the innovation," he added.

Local adaptations

FoodCycler and their distributor Axiom have done their research. In an Axiom x FoodCycler promotional video, Crepeau identifies a key issue for food waste disposal in Taiwan.

In the video, he says the company's product development team has studied the Taiwanese market for two years. He explains that understanding that cleanliness is a priority in Taiwan, the new FoodCycler Air is equipped with a new self-cleaning function.

Would the new function be a waste of electricity and a cause of environmental harm in the name of convenience? Crepeau said, "[the cleaning cycle] is nearly negligible when you kind of look at the draw from power consumption over the minutes that it would be running." "If that's really important to you, which I can appreciate it is, you don't have to use it right?" he added.

The price of the FoodCycler is a significant hurdle from the point of view of the Taiwanese market and the retail price for the FoodCycler Air in Taiwan is NT$9580. This is one third of the average Taiwanese monthly salary.

One of the FoodCycler's central marketing points is that can help lower greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the amount of food waste that goes into the landfill. Digitimes asked Crepeau how effective the FoodCycler could be in achieving that goal if only a small percentage of society could afford it.

"We try to think about it from a product developer's mindset," Crepeau answered. "Like any product, we are going to start with a price point that is high, and we continue to innovate or hire at the start, and it gradually works its way down," he said.

Disruptive recycling

Introducing the company, Crepeau explained that Food Cycle Science started 12 years ago. He was always an entrepreneur, he added.

He told Digitimes Asia that the FoodCycler came to be after he and his partner recognized an opportunity in North America in the way that people manage food waste. "The disruption that we were looking to offer was primarily focused on solving food waste closer to the source," he added.

The gap in the ozone layer helped Crepeau identify a gap in the market for his device. A recent study published by Nature Food said that Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and that food waste accounts for half of food emissions.

Crepeau said his company was originally focused on commercial applications of food waste such as large hotels, hospitals, and casinos that were producing hundreds and thousands, sometimes thousands of pounds a day of food waste. "We would propose a solution that would reduce that dramatically in the course of hours and transform it into fertilizer."

Decentralized waste management solution

In addition to selling the FoodCycler directly to the consumer, Crepeau's company has partnered with local municipalities in Canada to offer the devices to residents at a cheaper price. One such cooperation model is described on the website of the municipal authority of Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, Canada.

"In partnership with Food Cycle Science, the District of Tumbler Ridge will offer 200 FoodCycler units at a subsidized price to residents to use in their homes. Two different-sized units will be available to use," reads the introduction.

"The usual retail cost of a FoodCycler™ is US$500," the website states. "Thanks to a subsidy from Food Cycle Science, Agriculture, and Agri-Food Canada through the Impact Canada Challenge and the District, participants will purchase the FoodCycler from the District for just $150.00 (plus GST) or $300 (plus GST) depending on which model they choose," it adds.

Can the project be recycled for Taiwan?

When asked by DIGITIMES Asia if FoodCycler will carry out a similar initiative in Taiwan, Crepeau replied that he would be very excited to do it. "The reality though. We need our partner to also want that," he added.

"We don't have direct staff that can speak the language and know the cultural nuances that are required to bring a value proposition forward to a Taiwanese council," Crepeau said. However, with some entrepreneurial optimism, he added, "Can we take the playbook from what's been successful in Canada and start to at least present this to some people that would be making some of those decisions and see how they react? Yeah."

FoodCycler's local distributor in Taiwan is Axiom. The company put together an effective advert that shows the drama of an average Taiwanese family that has forgotten to take the food bin out for the recycling truck.

When asked about the potential problems his company will face in marketing his device for Taiwan, Crepeau said "We are up against a tough macro-economic environment, and we know that people are having to think hard about where and how they spend their money." "It's not lost on us that we need to continue to show value in this product," he added.

Shots fired

The FoodCycler was recently reviewed in a YouTube video by a popular Taiwanese influencer, Dr. Aichi, who has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. She reviews kitchenware from a scientific perspective.

In the video, Dr. Aichi claims that food waste recyclers are not environmentally friendly. As food recyclers such as the FoodCycler heat food waste, they kill the enzymes in the food and therefore the food cannot become fertilizer, she explained.

Responding to Dr. Aichi's criticism, Crepeau said that she ought to "finish the sentence." "And what I mean by that is, it depends on what the alternative is to how you would process food waste otherwise," he said.

"What I like to say is that food cyclers are definitely better for the environment than land and filling the food waste," he responded. "If she is comparing using a food cycler to doing traditional backyard composting, well, then I think I'd like to debate her on that a little bit, but it's a tougher argument to win," he added.