Three UAE start-ups focused on solving hunger and food waste problems have made it to the final round of FoodTech Challenge.
Food ATM, a company that helps to provide food to people on lower incomes, Revoltech, which uses special freezing technology to retain the freshness and taste of frozen food, and Circa Biotech, a company that upcycles food waste into protein-rich animal feed, are among the 12 finalists.
More than 650 contestants from 79 countries signed up to participate.
Four winners will be announced in early 2023, sharing the $2 million prize money. Other finalists are from Israel, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US.
The annual challenge was launched in September 2019 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, the UAE Food and Water Security Office and Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi company supporting the UAE's development of a knowledge-based economy.
Dh3 meal with Food ATM card
With Food ATM, founder Ayesha Khan provides a healthy meal to the less privileged for only Dh3.
Ms Khan, 46, launched the social initiative in March 2019 and has three such facilities — two in Ajman and one in Sharjah, with a fourth coming up in Ras Al Khaimah.
The workers receive a food voucher that resembles an ATM card which can be used to buy the heavily subsidised meal.
Ms Khan said she sold her property in India to launch the project and tries to source food products nearing expiry dates to keep the prices low. She said she manages to break even as she gets bulk orders from companies that buy these cards.
“All these workers send most of their money back home to support their families. So, I decided to make a smartcard which does not have money but offers them three daily meals a day,” she told The National.
"We prepare 50,000 meals every day, which includes packets of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"More people bought our food packets during the pandemic as several companies did not have work and they opted for our low-cost meals for their workers."
Ms Khan said cooking was a stress buster for her.
“I hope workers can save the money they would otherwise spend on food and this may be used for other things, such as sending their children to school," she said.
Ms Khan now runs her own business and hopes to expand if she wins the prize. Currently, the business is in pre-seed stage.
Preparing frozen meals for the needy
Revoltech, the second UAE finalist, is trying to reduce food wastage with better freezing technology.
"Freezing is one of the oldest and most widely used methods of food preservation but newer technologies help to retain the taste, texture, and nutritional value in foods better," said Roman Bagiev, the company's founder and chief executive.
"We use electrostatic freezing which can reduce the freezing damage in food products by decreasing ice crystal size.
"We use hyper pads that are portable plug-and-play devices for blast freezers, also known as shock freezers. These freezers are designed to very rapidly bring down the temperature of the contents being stored.
"Our hyper pads can double the freezing speed as the size of ice crystals become smaller and prevents water separation.
"This keeps the food fresh and retains nutrients for a longer time. Then, our hyper freezers are extremely powerful. It is a cost-effective alternative to traditional methods of food freezing and chilling that use hydrogen.
"Our mission is to reduce food waste and hunger problems and change the way people eat. So we ask kitchens and restaurants not to throw unused food. Instead, we use the ingredients to prepare meals, freeze them and send them to people in need."
Mr Bagiev said the frozen food remains good for six months to a year without any change in taste and nutrition.
The company claims it has developed this freezing technology and is trying to get it patented. It is already being used around the country.
With the project in pre-seed stage, the company said it was looking to team up with hotels. Products are ready to be distributed in the market, Mr Bagiev said.
Animal feed from food waste
Circa Biotech, a UAE-based Agritech company, uses food waste and turns it into animal feed.
It uses black soldier fly larvae to metabolise food waste into proteins and fats that can be used to feed animals.
“It’s commercially viable to locally produce animal feed for aquaculture and chicken farms at an industrial scale, with a highly sustainable process,” said founder Haythem Riahi.
“It requires low amounts of water and a small area with almost no greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "At a full industrial scale, we plan to process 200 tonnes of food waste per day and produce 22,000 tonnes of animal feed per year."
Based in Masdar City Tech Park, the project will initially produce 1.5 tonnes of organic fertiliser per month.
The company has received funding from Masdar City as part of its Accelerator Programme.