While Anantha Peramuna was undertaking a PhD in plant chemistry, his office manager was nurturing a smoothie habit. The food waste generated from the excess pulp and overripe produce smelt bad, Peramuna recounted when we caught up at the World Food Summit in Copenhagen, “like a rotting fruit basket”.
During an experiment that involved extracting plant material using a dehydrator, the researcher had a ‘light bulb’ moment. By dehydrating his manager’s produce, it would both preserve longer and eradicate the smell.
And globally, “with 50% of all fruits and vegetables [being] thrown away, why not make a product that people don’t throw out?”
The result is Lovi Smoothies, which Peramuna launched one year ago with the help of the Innovation Foundation of Denmark.
Lovi Smoothies dehydrates fruits and vegetables predominantly sourced from Europe – with the exception of some tropical fruits such as mango – and turns them into a powder. The process takes less than one day using a slow drying process that preserves the produce’s nutritional profile and taste.
In fact, it is possible to preserve up to 98% of the nutrients, we were told. “The tricky vitamin is vitamin C,” he continued. Being a fragile, water soluble vitamin, not all can be saved in the process. And while Peramuna could introduce additives to stabilise it, he would prefer to keep the product clean label.
The founder and CEO said the final product, which is sold in 30g packets, has a shelf life of one year. “And if you put it in a fridge, you could keep it indefinitely.”
Each packet contains more than 200g of fruits and vegetables, with no preservatives and no added sugar. The three flavours, ‘Spinch Me’, ‘Fruity’, and ‘Beet It’, contain various ingredients, such as strawberry, banana, apple, spinach, ginger, basil, and gluten-free oats.
The food waste agenda
By next year, Lovi Smoothies wants to be producing these blends with 50% upcycled fruit and veg, to do its part in the fight against food waste.
According to United Nations data, food waste is a growing concern. Roughly one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption each year – equating to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – is lost or wasted.
And of that food waste, around 40-50% is made up of root crops, fruits and vegetables – the highest waste rate of any food. Not to mention the financial fall out. Food loss and waste amounts to roughly US$680bn in industrialised countries and US$310bn in developing.
Lovi Smoothies has undertaken research with supermarket retailer Coop Denmark and determined that the ‘vast majority’ of fruits and vegetables they throw away, and approximately 90% of apples and bananas, could be used in its smoothies.
“People don’t want to eat an overripe and smelly banana. When you bite into it is mushy. But when you dehydrate it, you vacuum all the water out. That also means that some of the volatile compounds that [produce] the overripe smell, also leave the system. And then we turn it into a powder, so [visually] it is not an issue,” the CEO explained, adding that the same is true of bruised apples.
The start-up is looking to partner with supermarkets and farmers to ‘save’ produce from being discarded as waste, while at the same time working on a mobile platform. A ‘food rescue truck’ containing an industrial scale dehydrator could travel between supermarkets and farms to dry the produce into a concentrate on-site.
Lovi Smoothies has secured a listing with Coop Denmark and is hoping to sell in hotels, cafés, and in convenience outlets. The start-up is also developing new smoothie flavours.
For Peramuna, however, the smoothies are a ‘stepping stone’ to showing consumers just what is possible with dehydrated, naturally preserved, produce. Lovi Smoothies plans to roll out other dehydrated products, such as soups, crisps and bars – again while addressing the food waste agenda.
The start-up is applying for government grants to undertake research projects to propel it into its next phase of development. Ultimately, Peramuna wants to grow the brand organically. “We will let consumers decide. Consumers have the power to change the world.
“It’s up to them to buy the product and support it.”