Leadership: Toby Thomas, founder, president and CEO; Bill Belias, chief technology officer and founder; Charles Christopher, chief marketing officer and founder Headquarters: Kenosha What it does: Manufactures packaging that extends the shelf life of foods Founded: 2018 Employees: 10 Next Goals: Expand the number of food products using its packaging Funding: $2.3 million so far in grants and outside investments
Food waste isn’t just an issue for consumers. It’s also a multi-billion-dollar concern for food manufacturers. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that food waste makes up 30%-40% of the total food supply in the U.S. alone.
Kenosha-based SoFresh Inc. is helping companies address this problem with a solution that’s been decades in the making. The company manufactures food-saving packaging materials that use natural, plant-derived concentrates to prevent molding. This is done through a film material that can be used in different packaging solutions.
With 30 years of food packaging experience, SoFresh founder Toby Thomas has worked to address the food waste issue throughout his entire career.
“Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work on some consumer products that made life easier for people, and it was fulfilling. When (those) hit the shelves, we got hundreds of – not complaints – but compliments,” said Thomas, who also serves as SoFresh president and chief executive officer.
As a research and development manager for Pactiv Evergreen, Thomas identified extending the shelf life of food products as a continued unmet need for companies. He collaborated on several projects – aimed at keeping foods fresh – with his now-co-founder Bill Belias, who he first met in the late 1980s as research and development engineers designing new products and manufacturing processes for consumer packaging products. The two never addressed the issue to the extent they had wished.
“I always thought, ‘Man, if I could solve that, it’d be fantastic,’” Thomas said. “For me, it’s kind of like Edison’s lightbulb to Edison.”
SoFresh Inc. was officially formed in November 2018. The team found that foods such as garlic, oregano oil, wasabi and mustard seed oil could work to prevent mold but would taint the taste of the packaged food.
“We figured out that you had to have a food ingredient because there were a bunch of food ingredients that had properties that would inhibit mold and microbes and bacteria. We had to find the right one, because a lot of them are very pungent,” Thomas said.
Once they perfected their food extract-based vapor, the team tested the product through the Food and Drug Administration. In the spring of 2019, the company completed a $1.3 million seed funding round.
SoFresh currently works with bakeries, but the company wants to expand into the cheese, berry and beef jerky markets.
Packaged buns and breads that don’t use preservatives have about a four- to six-day shelf life. SoFresh’s packaging can provide those food companies an extra 10 to 14 days of shelf life and can reduce a bakery’s total food waste from 30% to 2%.
For bakeries that use preservatives, SoFresh packaging allows them to remove those additives and create a healthier product.
Thomas said the company is “slowly emerging.” Last year, SoFresh had sales of $82,000. This year, SoFresh is forecasting $3 million to $4 million in revenue.
To help facilitate growth into new food markets, converting equipment at its Kenosha facility has been modified, allowing SoFresh to manufacture mold-preventative bags for bread and other bakery items.
The company also has three patent applications pending. Thomas said he expects to receive the first patent, which was filed in November 2018, in the next six to nine months.