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 Jeremiah Chapman.
Inspired by cooking fish fries with his grandmother as a child, Jeremiah’s passion for great tasting food and the people that cook it provided the motivation to create FreshFry and the FreshFry Pod. Originally envisioning a career as a Chef, Jeremiah followed his childhood curiosities with oil down a different path to receive a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering, ‘cooking’ in a different way. As the Co-Founder and CEO, his expertise includes nanotechnology, adsorption, and chemical manufacturing, “Waste is valuable, you just have to know how to look at it,” says Chapman.
After high school, Jeremiah was proud to have finally saved enough to get a car. With gas being so expensive, he figured he could make it himself, spawning his idea to take frying oil and make something with it — in this case, fuel. The idea for what would become FreshFry was born during Chapman’s Sophomore year of college as a class project: an all-natural, easy-to-use frying oil filtering solution for restaurants to extend the flavor and life of their oil while saving money and labor. During his stint as a Process Engineer at Zeochem, Jeremiah incorporated FreshFry in 2014 and left to pursue FreshFry full-time as CEO in 2016.
Jeremiah was recognized by Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 and holds a B.S. and master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Louisville Speed School, graduating cum laude. Born and raised in Louisville, KY, Jeremiah still calls Louisville home and lives with his wife and son. In his free time, he enjoys reading, fishing, and being active enough to support his love of cooking.
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?
When I was a kid, I became infatuated with creating new things out of scraps. I would create new toys from broken motors, find ways to recycle batteries and even create new food dishes with whatever scraps there were. Cooking with my grandmother was a way for us to spend time together, both doing what we loved: cooking & creativity.
While studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Louisville, I would convert old oil from restaurants to biodiesel. I quickly realized that the restaurants needed help, because they had so much wasted oil and it was completely degraded when I got it. I remembered when I was a kid, my grandmother would use potatoes to clean cooking oil after frying fish so that we could reuse it and a light bulb went off. I furiously researched how to use plant scraps to clean oil for years, finally got a product developed, showed it to a chef and it failed miserably. Then something wonderful happened. The chef explained to me why it failed and what really mattered to him — food quality and safe operations. In that kitchen, FreshFry was born. Chefs enabled FreshFry to transform plants into Pods that help keep food quality high, operations safe, and reduce the $80B annual spend on frying oil.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
It is always a treat when I meet a chef, and somehow find out that they are already using FreshFry. It makes me extremely proud that folks trust FreshFry to deliver our product. That, and also almost appearing on Shark Tank. I would have crushed it, for the record!
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?
The funniest mistakes are always in hindsight. We were focused on using plant scraps to create the Pod, and we wanted to thermally process it ourselves (read- drying it ourselves). Well- we did that and caught the dryer on fire. Standing in the middle of a warehouse, I thought we were over, but the community around us (and even the facility we were in) rallied around us, and we got it figured out. Community matters.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership: being who you are while concerning yourself with who others want to be. At the end of the day, a business is an organization that has people who want to go in similar directions while watching the same scoreboard. Sometimes, we treat it as one thing “a business” instead of a group of individuals showing up, trying their best, including leadership. I also think of the core values that we use every day at FreshFry: Impact is greater than Intent (people, planet, profit), Never let a good idea go to waste, We are going for it, so GO BIG, Be transparent and kind, and finally, ask questions, not out of fear, but because we are compelled to do so.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ideas are transferrable, execution is not. FreshFry began as an idea, and for years (in college), an idea was good enough for me. After college, I was met with a crossroads: be an engineer or do this thing I always talked about. Once realizing that living out your ideas is a way to transform your way of thinking, I fell in love with it.
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?
Waste is simply when someone lacks the creativity to see its value. Food waste is a subset of a bigger phenomenon, a lack of institutional creativity (or excess of liability). Frying oil is viewed as an overhead cost, and it is even sometimes categorized as “non-food.” Oil is an ingredient, and quite a few brands cannot tell you when it goes bad or if its “spoiled” when they cook in it. Think about that. Imagine if a brand did the same thing with, say tomatoes, then you see the major issue. Tracking how much is bought, and how much is disposed of is the start. FreshFry simply keeps it in the fryer longer so brands can sell the ingredient in a quality state. When you lose control on spoilage point, it begins to stretch our ecosystem. We have a simple, plant-based solution to extend the discard process and bring control back to operations while delivering added value to businesses.
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
The main causes of food waste are the lack of creativity and the surplus of liability. Some liabilities are real, and others are grandfathered in from fear (customer expectations, narration, etc.). But a process needs to be sustainable in more than one way — we talk a lot about dynamic sustainability at FreshFry. Is it easy to master with a stretched and understaffed team? Is it affordable? Does it support your commitment to food quality? Does your process reduce environmental harm? If you can’t say yes when examining these definitions of sustainability, you’re probably going to begin to uncover food waste as a symptom of a broken system.
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?
If I said I would take away 5% of your trash, you are not going to be excited about that. The immediate thought is typical “what do I do with the other 95%”? Become the partner you would want — don’t take 5%, take it all, and reveal to the world just how valuable it truly is.
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
Right now, we estimate that for every FreshFry Pod used, 8.6 pounds of waste is redeployed, either from saving oil, or using plant scraps that make the ingredients of our Pods. Additionally, our team is thinking outside the box as we continue to grow and expand; “food” waste exists outside the restaurant and commercial kitchen industry, and we are positioning ourselves to serve these spaces in the next year. We are in the process of exploring our technology applications in novel ways to solve food waste issues in industries that you wouldn’t think had something to offer! But we see value in it and are here to help.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
Encourage more businesses to adopt the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Support rural businesses. And don’t dump your cooking oil in the backyard garden or down a drain!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Ideas are transferrable, execution is not. The idea behind FreshFry was in my head since college and one that I rolled around for years. As a chemical engineer, I understood the science and I knew that it would work. So, it came as a humble surprise that the idea was not the beginning and the end. In fact, it was a failure initially. It was only when partnering with an industry expert, in my case a chef, and working in the field that I turned that failure into a successful reality. Without that opportunity to try and fail in the field, we wouldn’t be where we are today — helping thousands of folks in the back of a restaurant with a safer, greener approach to frying oil purification.
2. Don’t try to own manufacturing too early. In the early days of product manufacturing, the question is product-market fit, not margin, particularly when your product is the first of its kind, like our FreshFry Pods. We had a huge learning lesson early on when we experienced some early capital inefficiencies that we had to mature out of as a result. We were trading manufacturing time and growth efforts, which is a tension a young company cannot afford.
3. Raise money when you can, not when you need to. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the restaurant industry faced unprecedented operations choices. We delayed starting a round of funding, and so that spring, we, fortunately, managed to stretch $13,000 for 70+ days because of our timing. We came out more empathetic and more resilient, but we shouldn’t have waited until the moment we were “supposed” to be fundraising. Nothing is promised.
4. Terms can be rewritten; equity can be sold. Early founders may be coached into early-priced rounds and deals that seem favorable for the founder but can easily be written out at later dates. Finding the right starting point on capital raises can make a world of a difference to the health of a company.
5. Have some grace for yourself, you do not know everything, and you are human. In the startup world, peaks and valleys can hit very hard. During COVID, we rewrote our financial model by the week, which was a total waste of time, because ultimately, we were just as unsure but now had less time to act. Those 70+ days were some of the most stressful days our team had experienced. During that time, I had never been more willing to ask for help, say I do not know, and accept the bad news without hindsight bias. We forged some wonderful partnerships, honed critical manufacturing skills, and came out on the other side with a strong case for growth.
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.
I am thrilled with what Sue Marshall and NETZRO do in their field. Also, with the creation of the up-cycling movement, it is incredible to see such game-changers in the world. Also, The University of Louisville has a robust waste reduction program that serves as a national leader for other campuses.
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. :-)
Frying oil is an ingredient. It’s 10–40% of your fried food. There needs to be a standard on spoilage.
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. :-)
My wife, photographer Erin Trimble! Phones off, just us. You don’t have to tag her; I already have her number!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Read more about the work we are doing on our website, www.freshfry.me. You can also catch me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremiahlchapman/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/jayechaps) , or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/jayechaps).