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Smart Composters Are Heading to Retail, But Will Consumers Bite?

Earlier this month, Costco shoppers in select cities across California and Washington State may have stumbled upon a product demo for an item called Lomi. This white countertop appliance, roughly the size of a sewing machine, sat atop a table adorned with a tablecloth, with boxes stacked high just behind.

The images on the tablecloth hinted at the machine’s purpose – perhaps it was a pressure cooker? An air fryer, maybe? The only way to truly discern the machine’s function was to request a demo from one of the beaming representatives or squint and read the sign that proclaimed “Lomi, Smart Waste Composter, $449.99”.

Don’t get me wrong – The very presence of a compost machine at Costco built to help food scraps avoid the landfill is a good thing, a possible sign that better management of food waste is inching toward more mainstream acceptance. But I still had to wonder: will consumers bite on a machine whose main function is to process food waste into something that can be used as fertilizer?

How Big Is Home Composting?

The answer to that question may lie in how many people want to compost their food scraps but don’t currently have an easy way to do it or access to a curbside compost service.

Approximately a quarter of US citizens aged 30 to 59 years own a compost bin in their homes. That number dips to 14% for those over the age of 60, and rises slightly to 32% for those under 30. One reason for these relatively low numbers is that only 27% of households in the US have access to curbside composting. Curbside composting is crucial because, unless someone is an avid home gardener, they likely have little need for home-generated compost. By offering curbside compost pickup, local municipalities make the diversion of food scraps environmentally friendly and as simple as recycling your cans and bottles or disposing of your garbage.

However, with a home compost appliance, anyone can compost food in their kitchen and either sprinkle it on their garden or discard the processed scraps into a patch of soil on the side of their yard. Some products, like the Mill, offer a pickup service for processed food scraps (which they turn into chicken feed) via mail-in packages.

But Will Consumers Bite?

All of this brings us back to the question of how many people would be willing to buy a home composting appliance. Past studies indicate that a majority of consumers are open to using home composting services if they’re readily available, but most aren’t prepared to pay extra for a curbside pickup service. Even when folks say they will compost if access is available, in practice, they don’t always follow through.

However, I suspect that these products target a different type of consumer: the home composter with a purpose. This includes the home gardener looking to create their own compost and the food waste warrior who looking for a way to reduce their carbon footprint. For those that fit one or both of these descriptions, they would likely welcome a Lomi or another smart home composter into their kitchen.

That is if they can afford one. The Lomi is $449 for the basic option, plus the extra cost to periodically buy the compost pods with microorganisms that speed up the process of breaking down the food. The Vitamix FoodCycler FC 50 costs $349, plus the cost of filters every couple of months. The Mill, whose makers prefer it not to be referred to as a composter because they turn the scraps into animal feed (though we still categorize them as composter), charges a monthly subscription of $33 for the machine and the pickup service for the processed food grounds.

None of these are cheap, especially for a fairly new product category like smart composters, which is probably why Lomi felt the need to start sending demo teams into markets in California and Washington to show people what these products are all about. When I walked up to the Lomi table and asked them about the product, the demo leader was enthusiastic and let me know how to use it.

In the end, I think this market will be an interesting one to watch, in part because it’s so new. It will take some time to teach consumers the benefits of these products, and once they do, we will learn just how many folks are willing to pay for a machine to process their food scraps.