What could be better than French fries? Shelf-stable French fries.
The sustainable and nutritious product was developed in 2016 by Mike Annunziata ’11, MBA ’17 and Vipul Saran MPS ’17, who founded the food technology startup under the name “Natural Cuts” and rebranded the company as Farther Farms after joining the University’s eLab in 2017.
Since its inception, the team has grown to 14 members who specialize in fields from microbiology and chemistry to food science and thermodynamics. Because Farther Farms focuses on creating new technologies with many different potential applications, it requires a multidisciplinary approach.
The startup’s marquee product centers on working to commercialize a new, natural pasteurization technique that extends the shelf-life of food by requiring lower temperatures, time and energy inputs.
In other words, the technology has the potential to remove the need for costly cold storage and offer greater flexibility to distributors. This has useful applications in developing countries, according to Richman.
“Overseas, there is not a robust cold storage infrastructure,” he said. “Sustainability is key, because it’s expensive to keep food cold along the supply chain. And another component is nutritional value: we look for ways to make food healthier.”
The pandemic has made the application of this technology even more relevant. From supply chains to food pantries, all levels of the distribution system are under great pressure to meet increasing demand with fewer resources.
Farther Farms got its start when Annunziata and Saran met in an entrepreneurship class at Cornell, prompting the pair to combine their knowledge of finance and agribusiness to create a new and innovative model.
Saran wanted to improve upon his former food exporting venture in India, which struggled with high refrigeration costs. Annunziata sought to make a meaningful global impact: “I wanted the opportunity to have a transformative influence on the food industry and add value to peoples’ lives,” he said.
Max Richman ’11, the vice president of business development at Farther Farms, became involved because “there’s excitement in being able to discover things for yourself,” he said. “In our case, it was the opportunity to derive things from first principles.”
Despite recent challenges posed by the virus, Farther Farms remains optimistic about the future.
“We have handled recent challenges by putting proper protocol in place, working closely with supply chain partners and increasing communications despite not having in-person meetings,” Annunziata said. “We have stayed committed to the vision and learned and grown from this experience.”
As the startup continues to grow, Annunziata applauded how far his team has come. He said his favorite experience in developing the startup was “seeing other people meeting without your direction and facilitation.”
To students pursuing entrepreneurship, Annunziata recommended “taking advantage of limited time at university to find a group that does the thing you love and build relationships with people smarter than yourself.” This way, students can make valuable connections and learn to work cohesively on teams.
Annunziata suggested that students should take advantage of the diverse opportunities offered by the University: “Embrace diversity, take classes you never thought you’d take,” he said, while also emphasizing the importance of “pounding the pavement” in order to get hands-on experience and learn how to do the hard work of entrepreneurship.
That is exactly what Farther Farms continues to do today. Although the company is still largely in the research and development phase, its leaders envision the expansion of its initial platform technology to develop a more resilient and sustainable food system.