Can a sheet of paper help solve the world’s problem with food spoilage? Meet Kavita Shukla and FreshPaper.
FreshPaper is an innovative new product: a paper infused with edible, organic botanical extracts that help keep fruit and vegetables 2-4 times longer. The organic ingredients inhibit bacterial and fungal growth, also curtailing the enzymes that cause over-ripening. Originally envisioned for use in the developing world, FreshPaper has gained a direct-to-consumer following in the United States. Now, Fenugreen, the company behind FreshPaper, wants to revolutionize the food industry worldwide.
Kavita Shukla developed the idea for FreshPaper at the young age of 12 while visiting her grandmother in India. During her trip, she accidentally drank some water and was concerned it would make her ill. Immediately, her grandmother conjured up a spiced tea mixture which prevented Kavita from becoming sick. Those spices would eventually become the active ingredients in FreshPaper.
Kavita believed that the spice mixture must have somehow worked by cleaning the water that could have made her ill. So when she came home to the U.S., she started very simple experiments by adding different spice mixtures to water samples from ponds and from her family’s home water tap. Like most kids, she forgot about those projects until her mother asked her to clean the garage. It was then that Kavita had her first “aha” moment, when she realized some jars were clean and others jars were dirty or moldy. She formed a theory that the spices were somehow inhibiting the growth of mold. A few weeks later, while grocery shopping with her mother, she noticed some moldy strawberries and this gave her an idea for another experiment. At home she dipped some berries into her spice mixture and left others alone. A few days later she was amazed to see that the berries dipped into the mixture stayed fresh longer than berries that had not been exposed to the mixture. Kavita continued her experiments on other fruits and vegetables all throughout high school. During that time, she also developed a method to infuse the spices into a paper format.
What many people don’t know is that for almost ten years after Kavita developed FreshPaper, she tried to do many different things with her invention and failed. In college, she tried to build a non-profit, from which she learned a very important lesson about how hard it can be to give something away for free. She really believed that the project could help people; people like her grandmother, who was one of more than a billion people who grew up without access to electricity and refrigeration. She asked herself, could something so simple make a difference in places where people have no refrigeration? Could it affect our own food system, which is so big and monopolized by big players?
At this point, Kavita believed she had nothing left to lose. She took the first step by going to her local farmer’s market, which was right down the street from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This decision changed everything. Taking the initiative to go to the farmer’s market and showing the idea to people who would actually use the product – the farmers and the shoppers – completely shifted her thinking and understanding of what it means to take on the issue of food waste, even in her small community. It was a pivotal moment, to which Kavita said, “For me, the day I went to the farmer’s market, the entire narrative of my story shifted. It had felt like a huge failure for such a long time; the day that I went out there and shared my idea, all of that changed.” FreshPaper’s success today began with those first supporters at the market. Speaking to the continued growth of FreshPaper, from farmer’s markets to large retailers, Kavita said, “Even to me now, it is still incredible how far this has gone because of the support of people from all over the United States – and now from all over the world.”
The quick and widespread success of FreshPaper can be partly attributed to terrific word-of-mouth testimonials. It is a very simple product – even while the paper was being sold in Whole Foods – FreshPaper was being handmade in Kavita’s apartment. Now that FreshPaper is carried by larger retailers, the manufacturing costs have been reduced, and lower cost applications for farmers are being developed. Looking toward 2016, Kavita said:
“We’re coming out with bulk FreshPaper that can be used in different sizes and formats to package everything from strawberries to lettuce across the food chain – from when food is first harvested at the farm to when it is displayed for you in your local grocery store. I’m really excited about that because large-scale growers as well as small farmers will be able to use FreshPaper to reduce food waste and make a huge impact on the global food system.”
Kavita’s story is inspiring for many different reasons. What translates across genders, ages, and countries, is Kavita’s passion and perseverance. For many people developing unique ideas and systems that can change the world, it is important to know that success is not instant. For those innovators and inventors, Kavita has these lasting words of advice:
“What I would probably want to tell anybody – whether they are young or old or just starting out – is that for such a long time what held me back was this fear of taking the first step. You often hear you need to have funding or you need to have a particular kind of experience, but I think it is so important for people to know that it is possible. That is why I share my story, so people can understand that it is possible to do something with your ideas; it just starts with taking that first step – no matter how small it is.”
Learn More About FreshPaper.