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Kavita Shukla during Intuit’s QuickBooks Small Business Big Game Top 10 Regional Tour at Whole Foods in Columbia, Maryland, in 2015. Photograph by Paul Morigi © AP Images/Invision
Kavita Shukla during Intuit’s QuickBooks Small Business Big Game Top 10 Regional Tour at Whole Foods in Columbia, Maryland, in 2015. Photograph by Paul Morigi © AP Images/Invision

A Fresh Idea

Kavita Shukla’s invention, FreshPaper, keeps fruits and vegetables fresh for a longer time, and helps reduce food wastage.


Recently named by TIME magazine as one of “The 5 Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink,” Kavita Shukla is the inventor of FreshPaper, a food storage product that keeps fruits and vegetables fresh two to four times longer than traditional storage methods. Shukla’s invention is as simple as it is ingenious: just one infused sheet placed in a fridge drawer, berry carton, salad bag or fruit bowl extends the life of the produce remarkably.

What led to its invention? That story extends all the way back to Shukla’s childhood, specifically to her visits to her grandmother in Chennai. There, despite warnings from her mother, Shukla once accidentally drank a glass of tap water. She was worried that she would fall ill, but her grandmother calmly responded by making her a cup of tea with various spices. Shukla drank the murky concoction and, in spite of her doubts, did not fall sick.

Back home in the United States, when she was only 12 years old, Shukla began to experiment with a preservative mixture of spices, noting that it slowed the growth of molds and fungi. One day, while shopping for strawberries with her mother and frustrated at the difficulty of finding a carton without moldy berries inside, Shukla thought, “what if I dipped a strawberry in my mixture?” She tried it and, voila, the berry stayed fresh much longer than its untreated counterparts.

Shukla spent most of her high school years experimenting in her garage, ultimately infusing paper with her mixture. By 17, she had a patent for FreshPaper, and was on her way to study at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

The product, however, had still not moved into the market and remained largely an idea. An additional step was needed. So Shukla and her partner, Dr. Swaroop Samant, handmade a batch of FreshPaper and took it to a local farmers’ market in Boston. From there, FreshPaper slowly gained momentum, and is now sold in 35 countries. It was also among the first few products launched by Amazon’s global program, Launchpad, which showcases innovative products from start-ups to millions of Amazon customers. The success has been remarkable, but it is the environmental benefits of FreshPaper that is really driving the company now. FreshPaper is produced and marketed by Fenugreen, the social enterprise co-founded by Shukla. She also serves as its chief executive officer.

An astonishing 25 percent of food production is lost to spoilage worldwide, and 1.6 billion people still live without access to refrigeration. FreshPaper is a low-tech and inexpensive solution to address these problems. It is, in fact, the low-tech parameters of the invention that makes it such an exciting innovation. It can be used anywhere and at a low cost.

By helping food last longer, FreshPaper can not only greatly reduce food spoilage, it can also help consumers to eat more local, organic foods that are not full of pesticides and preservatives, since the organic, edible ingredients of FreshPaper can replace—and greatly outperform—them.

Started with less than $1000 (Rs. 68,000 approximately) online, with no outside funding, FreshPaper makes a case that entrepreneurs can think globally and locally simultaneously. Before they had much of a market in Boston, Shukla and Samant were shipping orders to several countries, thanks to a robust online sales platform. These global sales helped finance the early years of the company, when it was vital to grow the brand and extend the product’s customer base.

Now, with success established through major retailers online and in physical stores, the next major step for the company is to make its impact felt in the food distribution chain, where it is poised to make exciting contributions to food sustainability.

 

Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature and contemporary culture at New York University.