Hazel Technologies, a Chicago-based startup that created a small drop-in packet to keep bananas and other produce from turning prematurely brown, is starting to produce a lot of green.
The 6-year-old company announced Tuesday it raised $70 million in a completed investment round, financing ambitions to grow Hazel into an international food tech powerhouse.
“For the next five years or so, we will be launching our products in every major agronomy on Earth,” said Hazel CEO Aidan Mouat, 34. “That’s kind of the brand ambition for the moment.”
The mission is to extend the life of billions of pounds of fresh produce each year, preventing spoilage from grower to grocer to your kitchen counter. Hazel works with more than 160 companies across 12 countries, with major customers such as Mission Avocado, the world’s largest distributor of fresh avocados; Zespri, the world’s biggest kiwifruit distributor; and Oppy, Canada’s largest produce distributor.
The product delivers an odorless vapor in sugar-packet sized inserts called sachets. When dropped in bulk boxes of produce, the sachet can as much as triple shelf life, the company said.
In addition to growers, several national grocery chains use the Hazel product to keep produce fresher longer.
Founded in 2015 by a group of Northwestern University graduate students, Hazel expects to double its head count to about 60 employees this year — most at its headquarters at University Technology Park, a startup innovation hub on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus.
The company is outgrowing its current headquarters and plans to relocate to a larger Chicago space within the next 12 months, Mouat said.
In 2019, 35% of all food in the U.S. went unsold or uneaten, and the food waste problem was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to ReFED, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit that seeks solutions to reduce food waste. Most of wasted food ends up in landfills.
This year, Hazel projects its product will be used with more than 6.3 billion pounds of produce, preventing more than 500 million pounds from going to waste.
The company said it is profitable and revenues, which tripled last year, are under $10 million. By 2025, Mouat projects annual revenue to hit $130 million, with most of the growth coming from international expansion.
“The international market for us is very, very large,” said Mouat, an Atlanta native who graduated from Northwestern with a doctorate in chemistry in 2016.
About 70% of Hazel’s revenue is generated in North America, with about 30% coming from South Africa, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Peru. By 2025, Mouat expects to be in 20 countries, with international business accounting for 75% of annual revenue.
The company has raised more than $87 million to date, including the $70 million round led by Pontifax AgTech, a California-based investment firm.
“It’s just a massive growing market opportunity,” said Tim Bluth, vice president at Pontifax AgTech, who praised the Hazel product for its ease of use and low cost. “And I think, most importantly, is it works.”
Beyond geographic expansion, Hazel has products in development to extend the shelf life of everything from berries to potatoes. The company is developing its first non-crop usage to reduce meat spoilage.
Hazel is working on a consumer version of its satchets that should hit store shelves within the next two years, Mouat said.
“We’ll probably try to dress it up a little bit for home use,” Mouat said. “But essentially, you could buy a ripe banana at a grocery store, bring it home and make it last for an extra two weeks using our technology on your countertop.”