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Episode 23: Mori Food Technology

Nadia Hallaj of Mori. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Mori is known as being an anti-waste company, specializing in keeping food fresher for longer by using nature-inspired protection.


On this episode of Water In Food, we're joined by Nadia Hallaj of Mori. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Mori is known as being an anti-waste company, specializing in keeping food fresher for longer by using nature-inspired protection. Let's learn about how Mori is able to better understand the effectiveness of their protective layers using water activity measurements and moisture sorption isotherms in this episode of Water in Food.


[00:00:00] Zachary Cartwright: I'm Zachary Cartwright. This is Water In Food. Welcome to another episode of Water In Food. Today, my guest is Nadia Hallaj from the food technology company. Mori, located in Boston, Massachusetts. Mori is known as being in the anti-waste company, specializing in keeping food fresher for longer by using nature-inspired protection for all kinds of foods.

[00:00:20] Zachary Cartwright: Specifically, they're using a protein found in silk to create a protective layer that is invisible to the senses. Once applied this coating extends shelf life by keeping water in foods to slow dehydration, keeping air out of foods to keep nutrients and vitamins at their best. And also by making it difficult for microorganisms to grow.

[00:00:38] Zachary Cartwright: Let's learn about how Mori is able to better understand the effectiveness of their water-based protective layer using water activity, measurements, and moisture suction isotherms in this episode of water in food. Hi, Nadia. Welcome to the show.

[00:00:52] Nadia Hallaj: Thanks for

[00:00:53] Zachary Cartwright: having me. Of course. How are

[00:00:54] Nadia Hallaj: you today? Pretty good.

[00:00:57] Nadia Hallaj: Excited for the holiday. Yeah,

[00:00:59] Zachary Cartwright: Just [00:01:00] around the corner. Things are definitely picking up and things are always busy at the end of the year. I feel. How are things there at Mori?

[00:01:07] Nadia Hallaj: They're pretty good. Yeah. We're in the process actually of moving to a new location. So we've done a lot this year.

[00:01:12] Nadia Hallaj: We're up to almost 60 employees, so we need larger lab spaces. But we'll still be in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which is good.

[00:01:19] Zachary Cartwright: And what's your role there at Mori? How long have you been there?

[00:01:24] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah. So I've been at Mori for almost three years. I started off as a research associate on our material science team, but have since transferred into our product team.

[00:01:33] Nadia Hallaj: So I'm currently a product development manager on our confectionery and snacking team. So specialized in a lot of our consumer packaged goods that we work on, but I've had experience with some other food items. Since I started when the company was still pretty small.

[00:01:47] Zachary Cartwright: What's your company known for?

[00:01:48] Zachary Cartwright: When somebody looks up Mori, what can they expect to be.

[00:01:52] Nadia Hallaj: So Maura uses nature, inspired protection for all kinds of food. So we use a natural protein. We isolate from silk called silk [00:02:00] fibroin, and we're able to extend the shelf life and the window of peak freshness on foods ranging from whole and cut produce to meat and also consumer packaged good items such as meal bars or hotcakes.

[00:02:10] Nadia Hallaj: Extending the shelf life of CPG items enables more sustainable packaging systems. And so by switching to recyclable compostable, or ideally no packaging materials, Mori's technology can also help to reduce the amount of trash produced in the industry. So looking to minimize trash food waste and it can even help with different shipping challenges.

[00:02:30] Zachary Cartwright: And I was trying to find online, where did this name Mori come from? Does it have a background as it relates to your products or, is it named after your founder? Where does Marie originate from?

[00:02:40] Nadia Hallaj: Good question. So the name Bombyx Mori is the Latin name for the silkworms that a lot of people would think of when they think of.

[00:02:46] Nadia Hallaj: So the silkworms that we use are the same exact silkworms that people use in the textile industry. So we start off with that silkworm cocoon that a worm would weave to protect itself during its most vulnerable stage of life. We take [00:03:00] that from nature and we use the protein and silk to help create a protective layer that's invisible to the fences and can keep food pressure.

[00:03:07] Zachary Cartwright: So are you growing these silkworms or do you get this from somewhere else or what does that process look like for That's

[00:03:12] Nadia Hallaj: a good question. So we're still in the process of figuring out ultimately where we would source this from, but right now in the textile industry, there's a lot of silkworm cocoon waste.

[00:03:21] Nadia Hallaj: So in the industry to get the finest quality silk, they really want to use intact silkworm strands. Whereas for us, since we ended up breaking it down, we don't need the five Brian all in one piece. So right now we're getting it from textile industry.

[00:03:36] Zachary Cartwright: And is this something that you get within the U S or do you look all over to, to get these products so that you can use them to create your own

[00:03:44] Nadia Hallaj: looking all over right now?

[00:03:45] Nadia Hallaj: So still narrowing down where ultimately we'll be sourcing it from, but Sarah culture is pretty big across the world. So in Brazil, India, China, Japan people have been doing this for a really long time.

[00:03:56] Zachary Cartwright: And then you're taking this coating and it's adding a, like a [00:04:00] protective layer to your. How does this work?

[00:04:02] Zachary Cartwright: How does it extend the shelf life? W what types of foods are you using and what are some of the successes that you're seeing by using this product?

[00:04:11] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah, so what's really nice about silk fibroin is when it's applied to the surface of a food item, it forms a film. And so this film has all types of barrier properties, so it can slow down the rate of moisture migration, which can help keep water either in or out of food, depending on the application as oxygen barrier properties.

[00:04:30] Nadia Hallaj: It can block ethylene. It also makes it difficult for things like bacteria, yeast, or mold.

[00:04:36] Zachary Cartwright: And what are some of the challenges that your clients face? So why would someone come to you? What challenges do here and then, that your coating is the right fit for that food.

[00:04:47] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah. So pretty much I like to think as long as it can adhere to the surface, that can help.

[00:04:51] Nadia Hallaj: And so a lot of it is the shelf. So really just being able to keep things, in storage for longer, or ideally, if things can [00:05:00] stay fresher at a lower temperature and you don't need cold storage for as often during the process as you would, without the coating, things like that are pretty important.

[00:05:08] Nadia Hallaj: But then for example, if something is really moisture sensitive, so something I work on a lot is hard candy, which is very susceptible to moisture. But something like that, you need a really good barrier. Sorry. You need really good moisture barriers to help keep that stable for as long as its shelf.

[00:05:24] Nadia Hallaj: Life claim is so hard. Candy has about a two year shelf life. And in order to do that, you need something like a wax paper wrapper, or a single use plastic wrapper. You really don't have recyclable or compostable materials available for this. So with Mori's coating, we're hoping that by better protecting these food items, we can then enable more sustainable forms of protection.

[00:05:45] Zachary Cartwright: And you mentioned hard candy, and I know when you look at your website, there are things like leafy greens or avocados, or I think I even saw noodles on there. Do you speak, do you stay to specific market groups or are you always looking for new market groups? What range of products [00:06:00] do you work?

[00:06:02] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah. So right now we're doing a lot of produce work. So like I mentioned, I'm specifically on the confectionery and snacking team. So that's, it I'll bring up a lot. But we see major shelf life increases on foods like leafy greens, think like spinach or kale whole produce items such as avocados. And yes, like you said, noodles, but specifically veggie noodles is something we've done a lot of work on.

[00:06:22] Zachary Cartwright: And then where in the production process, do you add your coating? Is it always to finished products or do you add it during processing? What does that step look like?

[00:06:32] Nadia Hallaj: Great question. So it's really market specific. So we really work closely with the partners to determine the best way in time to apply.

[00:06:40] Nadia Hallaj: But it really depends on what they're looking for and where the challenges are.

[00:06:44] Zachary Cartwright: And if you're working with the food where you're trying to stop it from driving. How do you understand this process? What methodologies or measurements are you using to investigate the water in those foods?

[00:06:54] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah.

[00:06:54] Nadia Hallaj: So a lot of what we look at, if we're keeping something from drying out, for example, is looking at moisture [00:07:00] loss. We have the capability of doing that in like an environmental chamber and using a scale, but it's really not as precise as it could be. So we've really benefited from using your BS.

[00:07:09] Nadia Hallaj: To look at shelf life stability over time, moisture loss, over time in much more sensitive scales.

[00:07:16] Zachary Cartwright: And what does that VSA that the vapor scorpion analyzer, what's it give you what data are you able to collect with it? And what's it show for your products?

[00:07:25] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah, so totally depends product to product.

[00:07:28] Nadia Hallaj: But again, it's helpful to have really sensitive moisture loss or gain Water activity measurements, which can be indicative of where microbial growth could occur. For example it tells us it helps us identify different critical water activity points. And so for us, we're curious, can our silk coating help push that out?

[00:07:46] Nadia Hallaj: Keep things stable for long.

[00:07:50] Zachary Cartwright: And so you're using those isotherms from the VSA. It gives you a complete moisture map of your products. And then are you also monitoring using water activity measurements? [00:08:00] And why is that important to your team?

[00:08:03] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah. So water activity measurements is something we're definitely hoping to look more into in the future.

[00:08:08] Nadia Hallaj: But a good example of that is our coating can potentially alter like the degradation mechanism for different food items. So just because the uncoded version fails at water activity. Maybe we see different sensory attributes and a lesser degree of degradation for these same sensory attributes at that water activity with the silk coating.

[00:08:27] Nadia Hallaj: So it helps us have a little bit more precision in defining our degradation than just, oh, it gained, 5% moisture and looks like this or that.

[00:08:36] Zachary Cartwright: And what were some of the challenges that your team was facing before it had this moisture absorption isotherm technology?

[00:08:44] Nadia Hallaj: Really the sensitivity I would say is the biggest thing.

[00:08:46] Nadia Hallaj: Like I said, the thing that we were looking at most was just moisture gain or loss, putting something in an environmental chamber and taking a weight reading. But with that, you have to remove it from the chamber, put it onto the scale. You can only read [00:09:00] to a certain degree of precision.

[00:09:02] Nadia Hallaj: And so it's really just helped us be precise, speed, consistent and really eliminate just a lot of environmental barriers.

[00:09:10] Zachary Cartwright: Yeah, I think when you use like an environmental chamber or an accelerated shelf life study, there, there's a lot of variables in a lot of steps where you can, even, if you make a small mistake, it can really add up over time.

[00:09:19] Zachary Cartwright: And with the VSA, you put your product in there and you, it runs the test. You don't have to do anything. And it creates that map for you. So I'm really happy to hear that's been helpful to your team, especially for things like shelf life, or identifying, critical water activities and understanding your products.

[00:09:35] Zachary Cartwright: Besides. Besides keeping water in your foods, are you working in the opposite direction as well, maybe applying your coating to keep water out of certain foods or certain products?

[00:09:47] Nadia Hallaj: Definitely. So with a lot of the CPG items, like hard candy, for example, or granola bars or things like that, they're the ones that are really susceptible to moisture gain and have these non-recyclable or compostable packaging [00:10:00] systems.

[00:10:01] Nadia Hallaj: And so that's what my team mostly focused.

[00:10:04] Zachary Cartwright: And you touched on this briefly before, but what are some of the business impacts that you're seeing for your clients? Once they start using your coating, how quickly can they see a return on their investment and what are some of the impacts that, that has on their business?

[00:10:18] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah, so we really exist because of food waste. Almost 40% of food in this country is tossed. And so we really try to recapture that value to allow farmers, growers, processors, that more flexibility in their supply chains and distribution system. We're really allowing companies to reach new markets and develop new product categories.

[00:10:35] Nadia Hallaj: We make food more sustainable by removing the need for plastic packaging. So ultimately we're trying to make the world a greener place. And this has seen immediate.

[00:10:42] Zachary Cartwright: As we move into 2022, I know your team is growing rapidly. You're already up to 60 plus employees. When I first talked to your team, you had purchased a vapor search and analyzer and now your team already has a second device.

[00:10:55] Zachary Cartwright: And I know that we work on projects together all the time. And so I'm wondering as you start to [00:11:00] build your team and look into the next year, what are some of your, maybe your personal, your team's goals, but also your company's goals as we move into next.

[00:11:09] Nadia Hallaj: Yeah. So we're really looking to expand into new products bases, but ultimately get some products out on the market.

[00:11:15] Nadia Hallaj: So Maura has been around for three ish years and we've made so much progress in that timeframe and also have just really demonstrated the breadth of our project of our product. And so getting something on the market and really moving forward in that direction, it's really.

[00:11:29] Zachary Cartwright: And if somebody is listening to this podcast and they are thinking, know, a, a coating would be really helpful or I'm having trouble extending my shelf life, or I'm having issues with microbial growth, or I really need to keep oxygen out of my product.

[00:11:43] Zachary Cartwright: How can they get ahold of your team? What's the best way to reach you?

[00:11:46] Nadia Hallaj: I would recommend going onto our website. So www.Mori.com. And we have a contact page and we're always looking for people to reach out with questions, new ideas, new products.

[00:11:58] Zachary Cartwright: And I also noticed [00:12:00] on your webpage your team has won quite a bit of awards recently.

[00:12:03] Zachary Cartwright: I was wondering if you just want to mention some of the things that your team has done and been awarded recently.

[00:12:10] Nadia Hallaj: Thank you. Yeah. So this year alone, Mori was awarded as a technology partner by the world economic forum, and we've raised 16 million in series B funding to prove the global food supply and cannon also announced a manufacturing partnership with our county.

[00:12:26] Zachary Cartwright: Very exciting. That's awesome. I know I looked on your page and there's a whole list of awards and things. So you guys are doing an awesome job. I'm really excited. I remember one of the first times when I got to do some testing on your products and look at those moisture sorption isotherms and it's really clear how your product works.

[00:12:43] Zachary Cartwright: Either keep water in or out, depending on the product, but using the isotherm you can see clearly what's going on and it makes it exciting to see a product like this that has these types of business impacts and help companies. So I'm excited to see where your team goes and also to continue working with you [00:13:00] guys in the future.

[00:13:01] Nadia Hallaj: Thank you, Zachary. Yes, us as well.

[00:13:03] Zachary Cartwright: Thank you so much for your time, Nadia, and for coming onto the show, I've been looking forward to having you on. So I'm glad we were able to get this.

[00:13:10] Nadia Hallaj: Excuse me too. Thank you.

[00:13:13] Zachary Cartwright: I'm Zachary Cartwright. This is Water In Food. Find this podcast on apple, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.