What a better way to kick off a food startup column than to start with the end in mind – the topic of food waste. It’s unanimous across organizations such as the World Resources Institute, the USDA, World Food Day, and NRDC that in the United States we waste 30-40% of the food we grow in this country.
Two reasons for wastefulness are that most Americans prefer aesthetically-pleasing foods – the un-bruised apple, the perfect peach – and that to “cover their bases” farmers oftentimes overharvest crops. The latter results in more than 6 million pounds of fruits and vegetables thrown out, or un-harvested, every year.
With the world’s population anticipated to hit 9 billion by 2050, and the global hunger crisis affecting some of the poorest communities all over the world, maybe planting and harvesting more food isn’t the answer.
Maybe, just maybe, reclaiming, repurposing, and reinventing perfectly good, healthy food into new food options is just what we need.
A few food, and food-tech, startups out there are doing just that – coming up with delicious solutions using food waste.
Misfit Juicery: partnering with local gleaning network
Misfit Juicery’s goal is to be “craveably sustainable.” For their line of delicious juices, they procure discarded, and unwanted, fruit from local Community Supported Agriculture programs and partner with a local gleaning network. Gleaning is taking the leftover harvest that cannot be sold – oftentimes due to aesthetics, bruising, etc.
The founders – Ann Yang and Phil Wong – decided to name the company “Misfit Juicery” to pay homage to those “misfit,” and “unwanted” fruits and herbs. The founders met at Georgetown University. Both had a passion for social entrepreneurship – particularly food deserts and food waste. After winning a social innovation pitch competition, hosted by sweetgreen, the team had enough funds to move into Mess Hall and begin operations. You can find Misfit Juicery at Glen’s Garden Market, Pleasant Pops, The Wydown, FRESHFarm Markets (H St & Foggy Bottom) and many more!
Fruitcycle: using ugly produce
Another local favorite is Fruitcycle. The company makes delicious, healthy snacks using produce from small, local family farms, while also providing jobs for women who have been formerly incarcerated or homeless. Their apple chips and kale chips are sourced from within 100 miles of Washington, DC and are made primarily with excess or “ugly” produce, thereby also reducing food waste.
Founder, Elizabeth Bennett, was inspired to start the company after visiting a local peach orchard and was astonished by the thousands of pounds of local, delicious, nutritious fruit she saw going to waste.
Fruitcyle can be purchased at Sticky Fingers, Pleasant Pops, Nicely, Each Peach Market and many more.
Spoiler Alert: notify the network to rescue food
Spoiler Alert is a B2B business that helps organizations with a healthy surplus of food, or valuable organic waste, connect with other organizations that can do something with it quickly. Using a mobile and web-based platform, Spoiler Alert enables a food business to post what food or waste they have available, notify their network of recipients, and confirm transactions in the form of free food donations, discounted food sales, and waste recovery opportunities.
The founders Ricky Ashenfelter and Emily Malina come from cleantech, sustainability, and supply chain backgrounds. The duo met at MIT and became fast friends discussing entrepreneurship and our food system. Ricky saw firsthand the amount of waste being generated at different hubs in the supply chain, and Emily leveraged her previous work experience in sales, technology adoption, and product marketing. Together they set out to explore how sustainability and technology could transform how businesses manage their wasted food and benefit those who need it.
Spoiler Alert piloted their technology with a small number of Boston-based food businesses and food rescue organizations earlier this year, and are ramping up for a broader New England release this summer. Their target customers are large food businesses such as manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and grocers, as well as leading food bank and food rescue organizations (such as the Greater Boston Food Bank, Lovin' Spoonfuls, and Daily Table).