Keeping in touch with our food’s freshness

Mimica Bump Cap. Credit – Mimica

Mimica’s technology is getting to the heart of food waste problems by providing consumers with an accurate reading of freshness through a tactile food expiry label that changes texture as the food or drink spoils. Undaunted’s reporter Franca Davenport takes a deep dive into the technology, and speaks with Founder and Director Solveiga Pakštaitė. Part of Undaunted’s Climate Innovations Up-Close blog series.

Every year we waste an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food and this contributes 8 to 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the centre of this problem is the current labelling system that protects consumers from eating or drinking unsafe produce. This is based on ‘best before’ and expiry dates but these dates are set to the worst-case temperature scenarios when in reality food is rarely kept in these conditions. This means in the UK we throw away 70 per cent of food that is still good to eat.

Mimica logo

Mimica has created a dynamic food freshness cap and tag, called Bump, that responds to the actual temperature and conditions surrounding the food so it can accurately indicate when it should no longer be consumed. The aim of the technology is not to replace expiry dates but to be used alongside them to provide consumers with reassurance by real-time insight into the state of the food. It does this by reacting to the surrounding temperatures.                     

Bump technology

Mimica smart gel technology. Credit – Mimica

The secret to Mimica’s technology is its unique plant-based gel chemistry which is built into caps or tags. Initially the gel is the texture of a gummy sweet and covers a series of bumps but, when exposed to changes in temperature, the gel degrades at the same rate as the food so the bumps appear through the gel indicating that the food is unsafe to eat. “This is why we called the company Mimica,” says Founder and Director Solveiga Pakštaitė. “Because it mimics how the food changes over time.”

Mimica orange juice cap. Credit -  Mimica
Mimica orange juice cap. Credit – Mimica

The gels are calibrated for different types of food, based on shelf-life testing data that is shared with Mimica by their food production industry partners. This is supplemented with data from their own testing. Interestingly the rate at which food spoils is influenced more by the level of processing than by the type of food. For example, Mimica’s first pilot product is a cap for juice and they have found the difference between apple, orange and pineapple juice is not enough to warrant using different gels for different juices. However there is enough distinction between cold pressed and pasteurised juice to make unique caps.

“As a student there is nothing to lose from becoming a climate change innovator: the amount you learn is huge and you could deliver a high impact idea that could really benefit society.”

Solveiga Pakštaitė, Founder and Director, Mimica

From university project to fully fledged company

The idea behind Mimica’s technology was first conceptualised by Pakštaitė when she was studying industrial design at Brunel University. Originally the aim of the technology was to help people with visual impairments recognise when their food spoils. “I quickly realised that  we are all actually blind to when our food goes off,” she says. “And this is why we are wasting so much.” She finished the project, graduated from university and, whilst on an internship, decided to enter the James Dyson award, which she then won in 2014. In the following months Pakštaitė was inundated with press and industry interest. “It was very surreal,” she says. “I never thought I would turn the idea into a company but suddenly major food retailers were wanting to meet me and I was in the national news. That week my surname was a clue in The Times crossword.”

Founder and Director Solveiga Pakštaitė. Credit – Greater London Authority

Through conversations with food producers Pakštaitė realised that her technology could not only benefit the planet but could also provide economic savings for food producers because it could reduce the financial cost incurred by the current level of food waste. With this in mind she began to grow her university project into a business and in 2015 joined the Climate-KIC programme hosted by Imperial College which later became the Climate Accelerator. “It was the very first programme that I attended,” says Pakštaitė. “It was so confirming to meet other founders who had equally unusual but brilliant ideas to tackle climate change. I finished the programme with a strong sense that people believed in my company and that I could help reduce the food waste problem.”

Pakštaitė continued to apply for and win grants so she could fund the R&D that was essential to advancing the technology and growing the team. Instead of using expensive commercial laboratories she partnered with university laboratories at University of Chester that have a strong expertise in food science and, more recently, Mimica has also been working with Wrexham Glyndŵr University and their specialists in gel technology. In 2018 Pakštaitė decided to hire a CEO and CTO with experience in the food sector, scaling manufacturing and international sales, allowing her to focus on the strategic overview and promotion of the company. “It was an important and valuable decision,” she reflects. “And really helped us to step up and create our global vision.” 

Mimica Team. Credit – Mimica

Working with industry partners

Working closely with partners in the food production industry has been essential to Mimica’s progress, particularly for scaling up their manufacture process. “Making a product on a lab bench is very different to making it at scale,” comments Pakštaitė. “The speed that is required on a production line is much faster and you have to find ways to adjust your methods to fit this.”

In their first pilot Mimica have aligned how they produce their juice caps with the speed of their partners’ production line by pre-casting the gel. “Our customers have spent billions on high tech lines to give them the best efficiency,” says Pakštaitė. “So even if our technology does provide benefits, we still have to make sure we don’t slow down their production.”

The juice cap has already demonstrated impressive potential for impact in consumer pilots where every person who tested the technology found that they kept their juice longer than the best before date, sometimes up to nine days. Mimica have calculated the cap could reduce current waste by up to 44 per cent which could considerably diminish CO2 emissions from the sector.

Images in slideshow: Mimica Meat tag. Credit – on_ Dyson; Mimica Milk tag; Results of consumer trial of Mimica bump cap. Credit – Mimica. Shelf Life Extension from use of Mimica technology. Credit – Mimica.

Juice has been used as a proof-of-concept product because people attach a relatively low risk to it spoiling but Mimica’s sights are set on more high-risk foods like meat, fish and milk. “We see juice as a way to prime people with the technology,” says Pakštaitė. “And develop trust. Then we can start to introduce its use with more high-risk foods which can bring greater environmental and financial savings.” 

With the average family in the UK wasting between £700 and £800 worth of food, Mimica’s technology has the potential for wide social impact. Many low-income families avoid buying more nutritious foods because they are more perishable but this new labelling approach could enable them to switch to buying fresher foods. This combined with the benefits to the food industry and the environment means those small bumps in Mimica’s technology could make big waves in terms of climate impact. 

Climate Solutions Up-Close

Take a deeper-dive into innovative climate technology by exploring other posts in Undaunted’s Climate Solutions Up-Close blog series.

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