Ever had to throw out the last few squishy tomatoes in your veggie crisper because they went bad too soon? Well, a Mumbai start-up may have just hit upon something to save those rotten tomatoes.
Science for Society (S4S), a start-up by Matunga-based Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), has developed a novel packaging technology – ProVegie – that will increase the shelf life of tomatoes by a month.
Tomatoes, which are the largest growing commodity globally, including India, usually have a life of five to seven days. The country’s daily consumption of tomatoes is 40,000 tonnes, and post-harvest losses are anywhere between 20% and 40% every year due to poor handling, storage and transportation methods.
“Developed countries store tomatoes in cold storage that extends their shelf life to 20 days,” says Vaibhav Tidke, chief executive officer of S4S. “This storage method, however, won’t work for Indian farmers since it’s expensive, and there is no constant electricity supply in villages.”
A survey of 50 vendors in the city found that unlike onions and potatoes, grocers don’t store tomatoes since transportation over large distances damages them, leading to wastage. “We want this to change. We want this category of vegetable to move to that of onions and potatoes, so a grocer can also stock them,” said Tidke.
For the last six months, the S4S team is building a mobile-operated machine that can treat and pack 10,000kg tomatoes per day. It will first treat tomatoes and then package them.
“ProVegie combines fundamental knowledge of how tomatoes respire and allows this respiration through specially designed packaging to create a self-stable product that will ease storage, transport and logistics,” said professor Bhaskar Thorat, who heads the chemical engineering department at ICT, and served as an advisor to S4S.
This new packing technology will retain the key nutrients, taste and aroma of tomatoes to serve consumer demands. ProVegie, which will be ready by May this year, is likely to be installed in Nashik, Pune or Aurangabad.
According to the model developed by S4S, farmers will sell tomatoes to the start-up and can then take back the processed tomatoes, which can be stored for almost a month and sold in the market. At present, the team is creating a value chain, tying up with grocers, retailers, and companies manufacturing tomato sauces.
The S4S team has decided against applying for a patent, instead opting for trade secret intellectual property route. ProVegie is designed to be remotely operated from any place with a mobile phone that will be configured with the SIM card in the machine. “This is to ensure that the machine is not opened,” said Tidke. “So, the operator’s job will only be to load the tomatoes and see the packaged product.”