Why Whirlpool decided to conquer food waste

Zera™ Food Recycler is the latest innovation out of WLabs, the innovation incubator of Whirlpool Corporation. Zera™ Food Recycler transforms a week’s worth of food waste* into homemade fertilizer, within 24 hours, straight from your kitchen! With an overwhelming response from backers and media, the campaign has raised more than 700% of their goal! We sat down with Kelley Rich, Senior Category Manager at WLabs Innovation, to learn how the Zera™ system is tackling food waste and the secret behind their crowdfunding success.

* Based on estimated 3.5 kg weekly household food waste for average U.S. family.

How did you come up with the idea for Zera™ Food Recycler?

Our team came up with the idea once we found out that approximately 40% of the food in the U.S. is wasted, most of which ends up in landfills producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  We became very motivated to develop solutions that help deal with this food waste issue, and focused on developing a convenient alternative to traditional composting.

Is there a need on the market for a product like this?

Yes, the results of our Indiegogo Campaign so far (over 750% of our goal!) show there is a big consumer need for an in-home device to recycle food waste.  We all want to do our part to reduce food waste and help the environment, but traditional composting methods can be inconvenient.  Unlike traditional backyard composting, Zera™ Food Recycler automatically controls moisture, temperature, and airflow.  Also, traditional composting takes months to process, requires a large outdoor space, manual heap maintenance, and can attract pests and wildlife.  We provide a more convenient solution.

Why crowdfunding?

The ability to directly connect with consumers that are early adopters of new products and breakthrough technologies is the primary reason we decided to crowdfund again.  Indiegogo allowed us to gain valuable feedback from its early adopters on our first Indiegogo campaign, the Vessi ™ Fermentor and Dispenser.  This 2-way communication with our backers is the most important thing to us and will result in better products in the end.

What did you learn?

The biggest learning for us so far is a resounding confirmation that there is a strong market and high consumer interest for an in-home food recycler.  The response from the media and our backers has been tremendous!  Zera™ Food Recycler has won many innovation awards and has been featured on Live with Kelly and many other media outlets.   We sold out of our Super Early Bird Perk within 4 hours of launching the campaign!  We are looking forward to getting even more feedback on the product from our backers in the near term that will help guide our future development efforts.

What surprised you most about crowdfunding?

While we expected to get a positive reaction, we were not prepared when the Zera™ Food Recycler  went viral on social media!  It was great for the campaign but we were overwhelmed by all the emails from people who were interested in purchasing. We worked hard to make additional units available for pre-order to meet the tremendous demand.  We were also very surprised by the very high level of interest from international consumers.  We were contacted by people all over the globe who were thrilled with the product and wanted to know when it was going to be available outside of the US.   I guess we should not have been so surprised since food waste is a worldwide issue.

What were your biggest challenges?

Originally the team was focused on creating fertilizer output with a 28-day cycle.  That approach had many challenges including trying to provide uniform fertilizer output.  Once we learned from our customers that a 24-hour process would be more convenient, it allowed us to solve many of the technical challenges we had been facing.  It took many engineering iterations to optimize the mixing system to produce homemade fertilizer within 24 hours.

What are your plans for after the campaign?

After the campaign, our engineering team will be working hard to complete the final development of the product and to start production.  Additionally, we will be using the feedback from our backers to help guide our development of the next versions of the Zera™ Food Recycler and other products in the Food Waste Management space.  

Later this year, we will be conducting test markets in limited cities where the Zera™ system will be available for purchase through participating retail partners including TreeHouse, Abt and Williams-Sonoma. We will also be working to launch an e-commerce website to allow consumers all over the U.S. to purchase the Zera™ system.  

Thank you again to all of our backers who have made our campaign such a success, helping to develop a new food recycling product and making an impact on food waste!

Interested in tackling food waste in your own home? Order the Zera™ Food Recycler today!