This week’s food tech startup spotlight aims to shed light on how a product’s packaging can put the contents at serious risk of degradation. Noluma has developed a unique technology that measures the light protection of packaging as a function of its effects on the product contents by placing a marker ingredient in a solution inside a test package, which is then exposed to intense light.
Founded in 2018 and operating globally, the company is a subsidiary of Chemours, a global chemicals company and off-shoot of DuPont. It grew out of an internal accelerator program and now operates independently with a focus exclusively on light-protection technology and certification for consumer goods packaging. The company doesn’t make packaging, but it assists with the design of light-protected packaging to help its partner companies keep product contents’ intact.
“Understanding the threat level that light exposure poses depends on each individual product. When it comes to milk and other dairy products, for example, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) serves as a marker that becomes unstable when exposed to any kind of light, including retail and home lights,” Div Chopra, Noluma president, told AgFunderNews. “This light exposure affects the quality of the milk and its sensory and nutritional characteristics.”
The company runs a series of tests to measure just how much Riboflavin diminishes or disappears under intense light exposure to assess the effectiveness of the packaging and determine an LPF (Light Protection Factor) score. Using this score, it claims that it can accurately estimate the decrease in other vitamins such as A, C, and D.
“Noluma experts can measure nutrient changes due to light exposure 99% more efficiently, quicker and more accurately than conducting a standard evaluation. Expert sensory panels through our university collaborations have also been used to measure the change in sensory characteristics,” Chopra adds.
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The growth-stage company is aiming to expand across global markets in coming months, so we caught up with Chopra to find out a bit more about the business.
Why did Noluma start with milk?
The primary light technology patent that Noluma uses addresses dairy and nutrition degradation. Milk is a globally consumed product by people of all ages, promising key nutritional benefits to consumers. We know that increasing dairy consumption could significantly improve overall health, due to the benefits of certain vitamins and minerals to growth, development, metabolism, bone density, and cardiovascular functioning, to name a few.
Research showed us that dairy, specifically milk, can be negatively impacted when exposed to light, causing its nutritional values, quality, freshness, and taste to change. Food scientists studied the impact of light on Vitamin A on light-exposed dairy milk and identified losses after just two hours of light exposures typical of what is found in retail dairy cases. We knew that the science that Noluma is founded on, could offer a critical solution to this issue and offer consumers the assurance they need.
Who is your target customer?
Our technology is applicable to many categories. There is a wide range of products that are light-sensitive and negatively impacted by light. We look forward to partnering with a diverse group of customers who care about the quality of their consumer goods.
Currently, we work with dairy producers, consumer packaged goods companies because of the significant issue related to nutrient degradation. Our plan is to quickly expand into other verticals as we know light protected packaging preserves what’s good in a variety of products, from food and beverages to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge is raising consumer awareness about the negative impacts of light on products. Food companies and other CPGs have known about this issue for decades but overall consumer awareness has been low.
As consumers become more aware that the products they buy have less nutritional value than stated on the label by the time they eat or drink them, they will no longer be in the dark, so to speak. Imagine pharmaceuticals and cosmetics that are not as effective as expected. Most consumers are not aware of what LED lights and fluorescent lights can do, and their impact on freshness, stability, and quality. A number of companies are already exploring this technology and we expect companies that move first to enjoy stronger demand and greater levels of trust and loyalty from consumers.
What’s been the most surprising aspect of your startup journey so far?
We’re about to reshape the dairy industry by introducing certification for packaging that will set the gold standard for light protection. Every day we uncover new information and potential applications that will expand Noluma into many new categories. Consumers, as they become more educated on the negative impact of light, validate our offering particularly after tasting our certified milk brands for example, and notice the difference vs. prior.
Another surprising aspect is how different regions of the world respond to our concept, and our strategy adjusts regionally for greater impact and success.
Are there any other startups that you looked to for guidance or as a model when you were getting started/as you scale up?
Noluma has greatly benefitted from the internal accelerator program at our parent company Chemours. This provides us with the benefit of a nimble, dynamic culture, the best breakthrough research and experienced scientists in the world, coupled with state-of-the-art laboratories around the world that have delivered new products and services many times before. This allows us to move fast and benefit from the experience, financial support, and networks to deliver at scale.
How do you plan to scale this technology across other food types?
Yes absolutely, we will soon be expanding into other light-sensitive areas in food and beverage, cosmetics, and pharma.
Any advice for other food tech startups out there?
Our primary insight is for your team to stay flexible, fast and nimble as the company grows. It is critical to bring down barriers that prevent the start-up from flexible efficient growth, as you will need to adjust to an optimal position, much like the optimal LPF measurement technology we use.