The end of the sniff test?
Imagine: instead of having to rely on the “sniff test” to work out when your milk had gone off, the cap on the bottle told you in real time whether it was safe to drink? Or if the piece of meat you had been saving for Sunday dinner had a label on it which turned bumpy when it was past its best?
Mimica, a biotech start-up and winner of the 2019 Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition is developing a product to do just that—a temperature sensitive bottlecap or tag that customers can touch to check whether their food or drink is safe to consume.
Founded in 2017 by Lithuanian designer Solveiga Pakštaitė, Mimica is on a mission to reduce the 1.3bn tonnes of global food waste that is produced each year. According to the company, 83 per cent of food wasted in Europe is still safe to eat, as supermarket expiry dates are based on worst case estimates of how perishable items will fare. Around 8–10 per cent of global emissions are linked to food waste meaning that, if it were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Mimica aims to tackle this problem by creating a temperature-sensitive cap that responds to the actual conditions it has been stored under, providing a more accurate estimate of the product’s shelf-life. The cap contains a plant-based, bio-responsive gel, which reacts at a rate calculated based on the time it takes the relevant food to spoil. The speed of the reaction changes depending on the temperature of the environment. At first the cap feels smooth to touch because the gel is still solid. Underneath the layer of gel there is a sheet of bumpy plastic, and when the gel has fully liquified—meaning the food has likely gone off—the bumps can be felt to touch.
Pakštaitė, who has a degree in industrial design and technology from Brunel University London, was struck by inspiration while working on her final project, designing inclusive packaging for visually impaired people that informed them about expiry dates. She told Insider that it took her more than a year of working on Mimica to call herself a founder—she had never intended on becoming an entrepreneur.
Winning the RSC competition two years later made a huge impact on the now 13-strong team. As their chief technology officer, Lawrie Matthews said in a video for the RSC: “We were absolutely delighted to win… the endorsement of winning has really helped us complete our seed round in terms of equity raise and also several significant grant-funded projects, not just in juice but also in meat and vaccine markets.”
Mimica found the entry process itself useful, as it motivated them to refine their business plan and strengthen their pitch. Matthews also found the advice he received from members of the society inspiring: “Borrowing that famous phrase of Newton’s, it’s wonderful to be standing on the shoulders of giants like the past and current fellows of the Royal Society of Chemistry.” Mimica’s first tactile cap will be launched later in the year, with pilots with a major retailer and one of Europe’s largest juice manufacturers.