ASU agribusiness researcher earns Elsevier Atlas Award

A single research paper is selected monthly from Elsevier’s 3,800 journals from across science, health, and technology to be awarded the Atlas — research that could significantly impact people's lives around the world.

Brett Matthews

The winning paper, “Food waste in the sharing economy,” published in the journal Food Policy, was written by Tim Richards, the Marvin and June Morrison Chair in Agribusiness in the Morrison School of Business, and his colleague Steve Hamilton of California Polytechnic State University.

The pair analyzed ways in which sharing-economy businesses similar to Uber, Airbnb, and FarmLink can reduce the amount of food that is produced that never gets eaten, currently a staggering 40 percent of food in the United States.

“Food waste occurs at virtually all stages of the supply chain from farmer, to retailer, to consumer — resulting in the disposal of potentially usable food in nearly every sector of the food system in the distribution channel between farmers and consumers,” Richards and Hamilton wrote.

The goal of their research is to find a way to match “ugly” produce with people willing to buy it. Richards says the idea is making markets out of what would otherwise be waste.

“We focused on Imperfect Produce. They’ve got an app. It’s all tech-based. There’s an app on the phone and say a farmer raises artichokes but they’ve got some that are too big or too small, or blemished, and a retailer won’t take them. They click on the app and say, 'We have a bin of artichokes available.' Imperfect Produce picks it up and takes it to its warehouse in San Francisco and delivers it to its customers. They are a medium of exchange between a farmer and a buyer. It’s based in the Bay Area, but they’re growing to facilitate the exchange of surplus food,” Richards told Atlas.

According to its CEO, Imperfect Produce has expanded to seven cities in its first three years and has kept more than 30 million pounds of produce from going to waste.

Richards says there are at least a dozen startups operating in California, and it’s catching on elsewhere. “It’s a matter of the best business models proving out and moving from coast to coast, but this really is the wave of the future,” Richards told Atlas.

“Food waste in the sharing economy” was picked as the winning article for March 2018, chosen by the 16-member Atlas advisory board.

By Rebecca Ferriter