Gambler's Edge: A Q&A with Mike Rubidoux, Director of Sales, Hazel Technologies
Three years. That is how long it can take for a grapevine to begin producing fruit. For farmers, it’s an extensive investment. From planting to harvesting, everything is a labor of love that has the potential for a significant payoff or a loss of 1,095 days of work. But our industry comprises educated gamblers willing to place big bets to win an even bigger jackpot for themselves, their customers, and the future of fresh produce. With such high stakes, the rewards of such intensive labor must be shared when they are at their best. In other words, consumers should taste table grapes at their pinnacle of freshness and quality. Enter Hazel Technologies and its proprietary Hazel 100™ solution. This unique offering, just the size of a salt packet, has the power to extend the shelf-life of table grapes, minimizing shrink for retailers and providing an even larger window of time to boost category sales. To truly understand Hazel’s innovative technology, Director of Sales Strategy Mike Rubidoux took a beat to detail the opportunities that exist for its partners.
Jenna Plasterer: Hi, Mike! Many in the industry know about Hazel 100 and how it slows the aging process of grape stems to keep them fresher longer, but can you share an overview for those who may not have seen the packet up close or don’t fully understand how it’s used?
Mike Rubidoux, Director of Sales Strategy, Hazel Technologies: Of course! How it works is simple: The packet—or sachet—once dropped into the package of post-harvest grapes, starts to emit a gentle, gaseous, active ingredient that floats around the fruit and ultimately targets just the ethylene receptors on the grape stems. When the active ingredient binds with the ethylene receptors on the stems, it prevents the stems from releasing or absorbing ethylene. This natural hormone initiates the decomposition process in plants. When ethylene is blocked, the stem’s aging process is delayed, browning is inhibited, and green stems and stem hydration are maintained for longer.
JP: I always find the science behind these solutions so fascinating! Besides its proprietary nature, what else makes Hazel 100 so unique?
MR: It’s the only product on the market that addresses what might be the number-one grape consumer pain point: “ugly” brown stems.Whether or not they’re an actual indicator of quality and freshness, shoppers want to see green stems at the grocery store and in their fridge. That expectation influences the entire supply chain. It carries a hefty weight at the docks, where imported grapes are evaluated. A greener stem is going to give way to better prices on arrival.
JP: You mentioned a potentially higher valuation for fruit with green stems. What other benefits do exporters anticipate from utilizing Hazel 100?
MR: Hazel 100 gives grape exporters more time to ship, which translates to a cushion in the face of delays and an opportunity to reach new, profitable markets. Managing risk is another big one. We know supply chain challenges are still a genuine concern for our customers, so every good shipment matters. By consistently keeping their stems greener, we’re allowing exporters to maintain quality and mitigate the risk of rejections. A third, more specific, benefit relates to new varieties. Many of the innovative varieties gaining massive popularity in export markets have an Achilles heel: a genetic inclination to dehydrate, degrade, and brown quicker than traditional varieties. We’re meeting with a lot of Latin American growers/exporters who are excited about the potential of Hazel 100 as a safeguard to their investment.
JP: With that many benefits, what has the response been so far from those using the solution?
MR: Domestically, we are partnering with several of the biggest growers in California, and they love it because it’s so easy to implement and provides more flexibility for their inventory. Depending on our partners’ strategic priorities that season, our solution can help them reduce waste and sell more, regardless of whether they will export or store more to cover late-season contracts or variety shortages. Now, we’re finding that our United States customers are spreading the word to growers and shippers in other countries. It’s fascinating to see all the international inbound and trials that are coming of it.
JP: Word-of-mouth recommendations are indeed a sign of success. How does Hazel Tech want to drive this positive momentum forward? Are you focusing on any other categories outside of grapes?
MR: Grapes are among the world’s top eight most wasted fruits. The more reach we have, the more significant difference we can make in reducing food waste. Our goal for the future is to bring Hazel 100 to every major grape market and grower around the globe. The next big step in that direction is expanding into key growing countries like Chile and Peru. We’re already cleared for using Hazel 100 on avocados in Peru and currently have an entire team stationed there, ready for when grapes get the green light. We expect to begin a fun new chapter at Hazel when that happens. Hazel 100 also plays a unique role in the apple market. 1-MCP has been ubiquitous in the apple industry for over 20 years but has been out of reach for the majority of U.S. growers who lack the facilities and labor required to implement the treatments. However, now with Hazel 100 for apples, mid- to small-sized growers are finally experiencing all the quality and financial benefits of 1-MCP without needing big, airtight, controlled atmosphere rooms.
So, you went all in on the gamble of grapes and won. Now is the time to protect your earnings with Hazel 100. After all, part of the fun of being a high roller is showing off your jackpot.
Writer at AndNowUKnow since June, 2020