CBIA BizCast: Bright Feeds Tackles Food Waste
Bright Feeds, a Berlin-based startup, is working to solve the food waste crisis by turning unwanted food into high-quality animal feed.
But for CEO Jonathan Fife, that mission is a long way from where he started his career.
“I was at an investment firm in New York City,” Fife told CBIA’s BizCast.
“While I was at the investment firm, I met our co-founder, Tim Rassias, who’s a serial entrepreneur who had started several successful businesses.
“He originally had the idea and got me into this craziness.”
Fife and Rassias researched the food waste industry, and felt they could develop a technical solution to the problem.
Solving a Problem
“Food waste contributes to about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions,” Fife said. “One third of the world’s food is wasted. So it’s a huge economic and environmental problem.”
“It felt like a really interesting problem to try to devote ourselves to full time.”
Working with engineers at Boston College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, they developed technology to process any food waste on a large scale.
They worked with the state, and the town of Berlin to open their facility in 2021.
That was around the time when the MIRA waste energy facility was in the process of closing.
“The state was really looking to solve the problem,” Fife said. “They were very motivated.
“So when we approached them with the idea, they really welcomed us with open arms.”
Still, starting the business proved challenging, as Bright Feeds balanced supply and demand.
“We hustled, we found a few food manufacturers that were willing to contract with us,” Fife said.
“We were very focused on making sure we had very high quality service to build up our reputation.”
Without a background in the industry, Fife and Rassias had to learn quickly and immerse themselves in the business.
“We’ve interacted with so many people throughout the food spectrum from the haulers to the food to food manufacturers, to people in the sustainability area,” Fife said.
“Through that process and through growing our business we’ve met so many people that have taught us an incredible amount.”
Processing Food Waste
Bright Feeds takes in waste restaurants, food manufacturers, bakeries, schools, and any other business that produces food waste.
They then process it into a high quality, nutritious ingredient that can replace corn and soy in animal feed.
“Corn and soy make up a huge proportion of the animal feed market, something like 90%,” Fife said.
“The larger feed mills that we sell to can buy less corn and soy for their final mixes.”
The Bright Feeds Berlin facility can process up to 450 tons a day, and Fife said they have more waste coming in every day.
“So it is something that can really solve the waste crisis at scale,” he said.
Sustainability and Savings
Fife said when feed mills replace corn and soy, it also adds to sustainability.
“Our process is equivalent to taking 33,000 cars off the road each year,” he said.
“So the energy that we produce from our process through drying and cooking and blending is less than just the energy needed to grow corn and soy, before even talking about preventing foods from going to landfills.”
And while Fife said they worked hard to offer a service that contributed to sustainability, they also focused on saving clients money.
“We make all of our money through selling animal feed, so we don’t need to charge or charge very small amounts on the front end,” he said.
Fife said they’re able to sell at a discount to large feed mills.
“Ultimately, we hope that those cost savings translates to all the local farms in the area,” he said.
Since opening, Bright Feeds has grown to more than 20 employees, and the company is working to hire more people as they scale up their operations.
“We’re able to recruit people of high caliber because everyone sees where we’re going to be in four or five years,” Fife said. “They’re excited about the mission.”
Fife said the success of Bright Feeds is a result of doing things the right way, and not taking shortcuts.
“If we continue to focus on making sure our customers are happy both on the food manufacturing side and the animal feed side, and we focus on building a high quality plant, and improving each day, the rest will take care of itself,” he said.
Part of Bright Feeds’ growth includes working with the state to build out their infrastructure.
For food waste to get to their facility economically, it either needs to come from nearby or in large quantities.
“We’re spending a lot of time on the logistics now,” Fife said, “and making sure that people in remote areas or areas that are far from our facility can benefit from the cost savings.”
To solve that, Bright Feeds is looking to expand their reach with food collection sites around the state.
“The more we scale, the more that we can produce in our facilities, the more we’re taking a bite out of climate change,” he said.
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