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Modular Food Storage leads to less food waste, less packaging waste and transcends cultures

Standardized containers for food & deli packaging and meal planning = multiple items that fit together creating less food & packaging waste

Photo of Marjorie Owner
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Fitware LLC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

Website of Legally Registered Entity

Http://MyLunchBox.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Saint Paul

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Twin Cities metropolitan area is 8,120 square miles (21,030 km2), with a population of over 3 million.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Twin Cities metropolitan area in Minnesota has been recently described as the "Silicon Valley for food". There are many food companies that feed the world, including Cargill and General Mills. We have a very active Meetup and Startup community here, including many food startups.

I've lived in the midwest my whole life. Having 30+ roommates, 3 kids and a dozen exchange students means I've been a front row observer of how people make and store food. As a realtor for 12 years I’ve been a first hand observer of how people live, what they want and what is in their fridge!

Even though the midwest is seen as rather "white and bland" that is far from the truth. There is a high population of African, Asian and Indian Immigrants, along with many hispanic people who move north to work in agriculture and settle here because they like other aspects of our climate and culture.

The reason this is important is because my vision is very multicultural - all nations prepare their own different foods with multiple ingredients, but they often prepare in the same way of reusing many of the same items again and again in recipes. 

As a previous restaurant owner, I met hundreds of people and learned much about food and community. I observed how food can transcend barriers, a shared meal experience can bring people together. Think Thanksgiving, potlucks, all the different cultural exchanges. Even though my vision can work anywhere in the US, even much of the world, this is a good take off point to validate.


Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Minneapolis-St Paul, known as the Twin Cities, is the largest metropolitan area in the midwest after Chicago.. Though there two city centers in this area, you don’t have to go too far to hit farmland. Minnesota was settled by Scandinavians, but has long been a state with acceptance of many immigrants, creating a diverse population. This means our food scene is more wide ranging than expected. 


Though Minnesota has a true four season climate, our agricultural growing season produces a wide variety of crops making farm-to-table restaurants and movements more popular in recent years. In fact, farmer’s markets are well attended both in city centers and in outlying suburbs with fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and other organics. The state itself is considered fertile prairie land.


Minnesota’s top five agricultural products are corn for grain, hogs, soybeans, dairy products, and cattle and calves. Its leading fruit crop is apples. The Honeycrisp was developed at the University of Minnesota and Cargill is based here.


One characteristic of its people is that we are known for “Minnesota Nice.” Minnesotans are generally polite and tolerant even with its diverse population. While this population mix is more noticeable in metropolitan areas, the suburbs have grown more diverse in the past 20 years. This creates a more diverse food scene. Minnesota used to be very “meat and potatoes” Midwestern, though we now have more ethnic-niche food options and people love it. There is access to a very wide variety of foods here.


We have a higher than average post high school educated people. With many colleges in the twin cities area, it creates an influx of people who come for education, often staying on. Because of the cold winters, many retirees move out of the metro or become  “snowbirds” wintering out of state.


As a people Minnesotans are health minded. Our winters are cold and although many are active, people are very active in the summer, preferring to picnic and grill outdoors, attending festivals and fairs on the weekends. As one of the largest metropolitan areas in a cold climate, the first indoor shopping mall opened here in 1956, joined by several others over time. In 1992 the Mall of America opened as the largest enclosed shopping mall in North America. 


As retail has curtailed because of the growth of online shopping, several of these malls have since closed or restructured. There are currently studies about how these spaces can be reutilized with  more of a mix of housing and shopping. . 


Target Corp began in Minnesota so retail shopping is forward thinking in this area.  General Mills and Pillsbury are based here, and have a heavy influence in the food space and innovation. 


While all of the above makes the twin cities unique, we are also much the same as people throughout the world.  Wanting a good life, full of health, wealth and happiness. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

21000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

4000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Our current food system is stressed in several areas, often this applies throughout the U.S. 

  1. ENVIRONMENT  The carbon footprint of raising cattle, food waste and plastic waste are current issues we can no longer ignore.  

  2. TECHNOLOGY More than 80% of the US population owns a smartphone, including the economically challenged. This technology could create a pathway to distribute information quickly.

  3. CULTURE Multi-family housing. As housing prices have climbed, it’s harder for individuals and even couples and small families to afford a single family dwelling. Multi-family or even multi-generational housing will become more common which may include a central kitchen that is shared by all inhabitants besides a smaller kitchen in each home. In the digital age, some are choosing this lifestyle of group housing as being less isolated and with a greater sense of community.

  4. DIET. Minnesota is a leader in food production, recently referred to as the “Silicon Valley of food” and yet we have a high obesity rate. This is in spite of some of the most influential food corporations in the US, a highly educated population and wide access to low cost healthy foods.

  5. POLICY - A lack of. Companies have found the way to make the most money is the razor /razor blade concept, working hard to make everything disposable. The proliferation of plastic waste has brought the recycling and sustainability issues to the forefront. For many years manufacturing companies have enjoyed a nearly unregulated ability to make things regardless of the environmental impact.

With an outcry for sustainability worldwide, there is a fortified effort to cut down on single use plastics and non-recyclable items


Future - 2050 -

Food safety has now become more of an issue after various health crises such as the Coronavirus in China disrupts food channels. 

People demand more organic foods and as the midwest changes from cattle ranching to more organic farming, localized food will be more of an option. 


Wealth disparity persists and we see a more shared economy as people attempt a way to live well even at different economic levels. More and more the working population does contract work and are no longer able to rely on the stability of a company career. As housing and food costs rise, many Gen X and Z will have fewer children and later in life. They often gather at homes rather than bars and restaurants. Growing up with easy access to food delivery and take out meals, they are less likely to have the skills or tools to cook from scratch. 


Our elderly population will expand as people live longer with better medical care and the expectation of it. With the public outcry of this current generation being the only ones to not outlive their parents, diet becomes a real tangible issue of importance. 

Our society in 2050 has a very diverse population throughout the US, including the midwest. 



Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our challenge is going up against an entrenched system based on capitalism, consumer ease and lack of policy. People may want to do the right thing, but it is easier to look away, to go along with status quo. Most people need a vision to be put in front of them as a solution.

Starting first at grade school level this will grow if we make it easy for people to grow along with it. Children are much more aware of proper recycling procedures as they have learned more about the environment and waste in schools than most adults know. 

We focus on young families first, as a buy-in to food responsible consumers. Reducing BOTH food and packaging waste and learning to prepare healthy meals easily. 


At the onset of creating this patented modular system the idea was to be able to prepare more healthy foods fast for weight loss. As I gained more knowledge of how other cultures make food, we often eat the same type of foods daily.  Having accessible vegetables and fruits to add to your diet makes it easier to incorporate into your cooking. 


With our lives being so much busier than even 20 years ago - can we make it easy to cook healthy? Food assembly is how all restaurants make food quickly. Having ingredients at the ready. Consumers often buy at hot/cold food bars at the grocery or grocery deli products. These foods are placed in single-use containers that are often put in the trash, mixed with other landfill waste, and some not recyclable because of food contamination. 


A  modular reusable system would eliminate a large source of single-use packaging waste, both in take out and grocery. Grocery items currently sold in all sorts of shapes can be within the same modular universal footprint, making it easy to use and not repackage. This is also translatable to be a smaller footprint to ship, store, shelve and make meals, a concept suitable for groceries. Think of all the packaging and waste with shipped meal kits now. Small, sustainable and regional delivery makes more sense.


This modular system of reusable (and single use) containers can make a difference in several of these categories:


Environment - This reduces food waste by potentially 25% and will also 

be a proponent of changing the use of single use plastics. 

Diet - App tied to meal plans of weighed and measured meals, making it 

easier for health care use also

Economics - Those trying to save the planet and those who enjoy the 

luxury of food & grocery delivery will find convenient.  

Licensing a system to current manufacturers encourages them to make 

more sustainable and recyclable, compostable products.

Culture:

  • Elderly and meal delivery “meals on wheels”

  • Young active families and nutritional meals

  • Gatherings and less food waste, communal dining


Technology - an APP that creates meal plans, sources for food, locations of food gatherings to reduce food waste

Policy- as an influence on plastic recycling and food waste, this may be a driver to Government public policy.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Capitalism, a blessing and a curse. The world has evolved and become a more peaceful place after several devastating health crises in China and other developed countries back in 2020. The major powers saw how important it is for all people to have a better life. That they can’t become billionaires when their workers die off. When cities need to be shut down it creates an immediate effect on supply chain causing billions of dollars of loss. That it is important to keep all people safe and healthy.  Large corporations see roads forward to still make products and money but not for war or weapons of mass destruction. 

With so many living and working in cities there are many shared communities that have developed with co-housing initiatives.  This, along with an anti-corporation bent leads to growth in small neighborhood businesses. Although some regulations are relaxed, health and safety become paramount. Food distribution becomes more localized with the advent of more hydroponic farming. 

Cattle and pig farms have turned over to crops as vegetable based proteins become a staple in the food industry and beef and pork become an indulgence. Farm to table actually become communities, living off grid, thriving in the production of all types of produce and hydroponically grown seafood. 

APPS are de regure, as they find local food, restaurants and efficient neighborhood wide delivery services. Think of the milkman of the past, door to door, not Amazon shipping cross country clogging our roads with mini vans. 

 A wealth disparity persists yet with all these conveniences, good health and a sense of purpose, people find a way to live well even at differing economic levels. 

This life is played out throughout the US and many other countries. With the internet the world is so much more connected and if this works here, it certainly would benefit countries such as China where so many plastic products are made and space is an issue along with food safety. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what will I be? Will I be rich, will I be pretty, here’s what she said to me… 

“Finish what’s on your plate. There are starving children in Africa that would be happy to eat that.”


That is how many Americans start their conflicted relationship with food. Having been in Overeaters Anonymous for a number of years, I found many are from a poor background like myself. Raised by a single mother who was a full time teacher, we ate packaged foods that were all the rage at the time - Hamburger Helper, SpaghettiOs, Macaroni and (powdered) Cheese. Fattening processed grains, though it was a part of our CULTURE at the time.


The nutritional guidelines were very heavy on grains, but then this is the farmbelt and that is what farmers grow and eat, right?  Vegetables in a winter climate were often from a can with little nutritional value after processing. Growing up with that background, I’ve always had an issue with weight, and like so many others, constantly work against a poor DIET, even when wonderful options are now available. 


Fast forward to 40 years later. I’m in line at Subway™, watching the “sandwich artist” make our meal. In line at a sub sandwich shop where a multitude of fresh veggies, meats and cheeses are front and center.  I thought to myself, “Why is this so hard and such a mess to make the same at home? Why do we not eat more vegetables, more salads?”


Ah! the prep - the ingredients handy in one spot. If you do this at home you dig all over in the modern refrigerator and have a variety of packaging, bags, jars, drawers, and compartments to find all the ingredients.  This leaves a mess on the counter and a mess to put away. 


This was the beginning of Fitware™. With much time and input spent on design, what became apparent is that this can be a useful idea for both meal prep and meal transport. If the containers are sized the same volume as American deli containers, these can work well together for a number of items besides just deli food. 


Over the years the market continued to change. With many grocery chains now competing with meal delivery, this is a way for them to compete with online services to deliver prepared meals. With in store hot & cold food bars and ready to eat products, this is a way to take home multiple ingredients easily. And an easy way to deliver measured meals. 


Imagine a one size fits nearly all modular system like the USB plug that changed how computers and peripheral equipment work together. How having a standardized size and shape is more useful, creates less waste and how it can change the relationship with how meal planning and food products work. 


Today, just as pressing of a concern is single use plastic waste - an ENVIRONMENTAL problem.  What if a reusable container system was used first at co-ops until it catches on? There is a strong network of food co-ops in the midwest. They have you bring jugs and bottles to fill, but many now include a deli onsite. Imagine having other fresh items available ready to go, and you either bring your own Fitware system, or this was a returnable and reusable system? Where you rinse and return, but the co-op washes and reuses. Some containers could be biodegradable if they are difficult to clean, as a standardized size can be made of a variety of materials. 


Right now some colleges have started to disburse reusable containers to take food from the cafeteria to the dorm, then rinse and return to a recycling bin on campus. Then they are picked up, sanitized and reused. This Fitware system could work much the same in grocery stores, delis and take out restaurants. Scaling from a co-op to those venues may take 30 years as people would need to see the usefulness, much like the milk delivery in the past. That is why it is of utmost importance to have a 30 year plan, to start with the kids and young families.


Major plastics producers want to have you not reuse. They want to sell more and more product. It may take a matter of POLICY for them to get on board. A modular system makes sense for both less food waste & plastic waste. A portion of all our profits go to tackle ocean cleanup. Our own POLICY as a manufactured and licensed product will benefit the world. Becoming a B Corp will potentially allow us to be a voice in public policy.


If we introduce this modular system to families with young and middle school children, they learn to cook and eat more healthy food. They learn recycling and are already well aware of plastic pollution. And they then want to buy products they know will work for them, and save the environment at the same time. 


Back to my Subway™ moment - we were in line because of a sports event. I wanted to feed my kids something healthy and nutritious, but also had to be budget friendly. Many of today's families struggle with getting nutritious food on the table and have varying meal times because of sports, jobs and activities. 


Our culture has changed. We cook less from scratch but have so many choices in the US now. Many meals are made of the same components, but use different sauces, breads and proteins. That is how restaurants work; multiple menu items from many of the same ingredients. Kids now grow up with restaurant food not as a luxury but often several times weekly.


Many restaurants now follow the Subway™ format, putting the restaurant “mies en place” - all in place - out in front of the customer. The veil has been lifted, food prep is key to quick and diverse meals.


With current TECHNOLOGY and a modular reusable system, imagine connected cities where an app such as Cytilife™ or Yelp™ alerts you to where a discount meal pick up is available at end of day so prepared food is not wasted.


Office complexes with cafeterias that also have food at end of day alerts by email or an application notification that packaged meals are available for pick up. Containers are easily returned to the office.


I envision potluck gatherings or in home dining, as a way to bring in foods, take home leftovers and fix multiple meals. It’s about sharing while wasting less food.


I envision the concept of co-housing - where many families live in the same space -  where possibly a chef prepared meal is brought in, residents dine together, but they also take meal components easily home for meals later in the week.


I envision this changing and uplifting food delivery such as Meals on Wheels. This program is all about nutritional meals delivered for several days to a week’s worth of food for the elderly or housebound. The impact of Fitware on this population and the efficiencies of this program would be immense.


I envision restaurant workers - some of the most often underpaid and lower economic scaled workforce participants - being able to take home leftover ingredients safely for family meals and return the containers on another work shift. 


I envision easy implementation of weighed and measured meals to combat diabetes and other food related diseases distributed in hospitals or through dieticians.


Our current CULTURE is based on medical care after the fact, treating illness rather than prevention. American diets need to change as study after study shows that multiple diseases can be cured or abated by a healthier DIET. 


There is so much money made in health care that there is little incentive for corporations to care about a healthier people. As this Opioid crisis develops, we can see in the future there will be a backlash against corporations making a profit off of the illness of others. Current ECONOMICS show trillions of dollars in healthcare if we do not turn the tide in the next 30 years. There are many new jobs in the future for health coaches and dieticians. Having a better way to address weighed and measured meals can bring about changes to the midwestern diet. When selling a set full of boxes, this allows for multiple potential messaging opportunities. I can see areas addressing meal planning, recycling, plastic waste, food waste, food allergies, and meal ideas as well as sponsorship opportunities.


Having young families learn to make meals that are healthy is so important as they should grow up with eating habits better than what my kids and I experienced. Learning to waste less food when preparing, not on the plate, will make for a healthier Minnesota. 


As we see progress here, it will naturally translate to changes throughout the world. In 30 years my vision of this system can have a significant impact on both food waste & plastic waste.

Staying healthy and productive with the ability to help others, show a better way is what will benefit those children in Africa. 


Que sera, sera 

Whatever will be will be 

The future's not ours to see - IT IS OURS TO CREATE




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4 comments

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Photo of Lydia Newell Cross Nicholson
Team

@marjorieowner I love the modular storage system. It has me thinking about how we continue to improve storage in our homes but also for confidence foods especially on our college campus Universities as a Living Laboratory Closing the Food System Loop 

Photo of Marjorie Owner
Team

Hi Lydia, thanks! Yes, some campuses are doing a recycling program however just a more sustainable typical clamshell container, and typical round deli containers. I see this as something to last a few days in the typical dorm mini fridge.
Whew! Just made a few final changes and got this in - still want to add more pics of course... We will have to connect further - good project!

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