It has been estimated that each year, more than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than $160 billion worth of food thrown away each year. At the same time, in many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. The waste of food is not only a waste of money and bad for the environment, but it is also making vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.
Authority Magazine started a new series called “How Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, and Food Companies Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste.” In this interview series, we are talking to leaders and principals of Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, Food Companies, and any business or nonprofit that is helping to eliminate food waste, about the initiatives they are taking to eliminate or reduce food waste.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Phillips.
Greg Phillips is CEO of iMatrix Systems, an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions provider founded in 2018. The company’s cloud platform and dedicated sensors are applicable to markets in healthcare, residential and commercial buildings, restaurants and hospitality, critical infrastructure, hydroponics, soil monitoring, and management. The company offers ideal solutions for the Cold Chain markets.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I graduated college with a double major in Computer Science and Instrumental Science and have developed computer communications systems ever since. As a serial entrepreneur, Founding iMatrix and creating a company that uses sensor networks to report data to Cloud Servers was a logical progression from my earlier activities.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
Developing a company with sensors integrated into the food production and distribution chain has meant we have seen many exciting ways to incorporate the technology to improve the efficiency and safety of the process. One of the most interesting would be starting the very complex process of using machine learning with a new breed of sensors that can smell. These sensors have the potential to detect the results of bacteria mixed in with raw agriculture shipments. Detecting these signals could help prevent the spread of E. coli or other dangerous bacteria at a very early stage and prevent the enormous food losses and cost to human health we unfortunately often see in the media.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One that comes to mind was when I was working for a Mini Computer company out of New England; I was tasked with assessing how long it would take to provide natural language support in Japanese for a CAD/CAM application. I flew over to the office in Tokyo and spent the next three days and most of the nights, not just assessing the project but completing it. On the fourth day, the CEO came in and asked me how much longer this would take me to work out the time to implement. I then showed him the finished working prototype, the look on his face was something I remember to this day. We ended up demonstrating this to a key customer the next day and walked away with a $12M order on the spot. Needless to say, we enjoyed a very fine dinner that night.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
In my mind, leadership by example is the best way to help grow our team strengths. My philosophy is “Do it right or don’t do it at all”. Of course, this has to be taken in the context of financial and time reality. We are constantly balancing the scope triangle, whose sides are time, cost, and quality. We may have to sacrifice some features to meet deadlines and budgets but never quality. Integrity and quality are the foundations of our company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Leaning on my previous answer, my late father stressed this to me as a young boy working in the home workshop; we built all types of things from model aircraft to soapbox cars with sophisticated steering and braking systems. When we would start on a project, he always taught me to start with a plan, and while we repurposed many items (the budget was always tight), I learned the basics of the scope triangle from him. Planning is critical if you want the best outcome, and if you are going to tackle a task, the ”Do it right or don’t do it at all”.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly are we talking about when we refer to food waste?
In my mind, food waste is any time when any element of food delivery fails and the produce or product ends up not being consumed. It could be fruit not being picked or spoiled or discarded food from a consumer’s refrigerator. The areas we are focused on are the cold chain, which is the time from harvest to delivery to the consumer. We are involved with helping to prevent food waste in restaurants with temperature and humidity monitors in refrigeration and freezer systems.
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
The main areas of food waste that we are focused on are when items perish due to poor handling and monitoring. Refrigeration required during storage and transportation can fail, and if not quickly detected, the results can be costly. Providing constant monitoring, combined with a sophisticated notification system helps check the safe storage of food during all distribution stages.
What are a few of the obstacles that companies and organizations face when it comes to distributing extra or excess food? What can be done to overcome those barriers?
Tackling the monitoring of food during transport and storage used to be a very manual process that was prone to failure. Typical cases are where a worker might miss closing a freezer or refrigerator door. A transport worker might not correctly secure the doors of a truck. All these areas are potential reasons for food loss. Providing a low-cost integrated set of sensors with gateways constantly reporting this information to an intelligent cloud computing platform allows for more efficient and transparent mechanisms to prevent loss. We are focused on making this technology available to the greatest possible audience.
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
Our focus is on providing sensors and data collection systems that efficiently constantly monitor the cold chain. Detecting when a breach is occurring allows immediate corrective action to prevent the loss of the food. The detection of a failure could be as easy as a text message to a worker notifying them that a freezer door has been left open. We have sensors that monitor temperature and humidity levels in all environments, Door Open and Close sensors used in refrigeration and freezer systems. A mesh network of sensors that connect to gateways using Wi-Fi or 4G/5G to the cloud. These systems allow for the instant notification of any conditions affecting food health that help prevent food waste.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
From our experience, there are various standards at the business, county, state, and national level, which form a mismatch of competing requirements. With low-cost sensors and reporting systems now available, we feel that the Federal Government could help the industry significantly by publishing a set of clear guidelines for best practices in this area. With these best practices defined, everyone from the local convenience store to warehouse and distribution networks would understand the right way to monitor these food items in the Cold Chain using technology to cut costs and losses.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
As a serial Entrepreneur, I have tripped on more than one occasion. In the early days, I let the enthusiasm of a new venture get in the way of essential judgment on the overall requirements for the business. Fundamentals are about understanding what the actual capital cost of a start-up involves. The R&D phases of getting a working product are just the first steps. Truly designing the product for high volume low-cost manufacturing is a big part of the product development steps. In addition, it is the understanding of the time and costs associated with bringing it to production, forming a sales channel, successfully promoting the products, and sharing the vision that takes more resources than often initially anticipated. As one of my VP of Sales explained to me, Sale is a process. Having the right product in the market and following that process results in success. It’s not quick, but it is a proven way for technology-based solutions.
Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food waste? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.
There are some great groups focused on this problem. One that comes to mind is the ReFED (refed.com ); they are the only non-profit that I am aware of that is exclusively focused on food waste. Their website provides a wealth of information and guidance covering issues like Strategies, Activities, near and long-term goals, along with impacts. A group that I think does a tremendous job covering the industry is foodlogistics.com. They are a constant source of quality articles and advice on using the Cold Chain technology to help address food waste.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
For me, and something we try hard to do with iMatrix, we try to always think about the environmental impacts of our choices and strive to minimize our environmental impact. This comes from product packaging, designing our product to be recycled and other aspects to ensure we try hard to care for our planet and its many inhabitants. I feel that the cost of a product should reflect its true cost to produce and dispose of. If businesses were forced to price products based on the total impact cost and not just the production and distribution we would see a major shift in the waste and a heavier focus on being carbon neutral and recycling.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Lora Cecere of Supply Chain Insights has always impressed me with the wealth of information on her site and her annual Supply Chain Insights — Global Summit. The leaders she brings to this insightful conference have a refreshing, pragmatic view and cover the industry in depth. She is certainly someone I would like to spend some time with.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Would you please follow along at our website: www.imatrixsys.com, thank you for your time today.