Harvesting the beauty and utility of 'ugly' produce
This 12-part series highlights women-led ventures in the green economy.
There seems to be a B2B marketplace for any and everything. Companies such as Alibaba, IndiaMart and Amazon Business make the selling and buying process seamless for wholesale products.
Except if you want to sell a less-than-perfect-looking apple.
In comes Full Harvest — the first business-to-business online marketplace for ugly and surplus produce. Christine Moseley founded the company in 2015 after spending 12 years in the food and logistics industries. She witnessed firsthand the food waste issue: One-third of food grown or prepared is never eaten.
Working in the food industry, Moseley became troubled by the amount of edible food waste. She came to understand all too well why freshly squeezed, cold pressed juices are so pricey: Juice producers are paying top dollar for "pretty produce," which translates to those simultaneously enticing and worrisome $13 priced juice bottles.
Moseley embarked on a journey to leverage technology and bring scale to solving the problem of imperfect produce. "There was no existing solution to make it easy for farmers to sell their extra produce," said Moseley. Full Harvest's online purchasing tool matches wholesale consumers, such as food-and-beverage and food service companies, with farmers. Produce that is perfectly delicious but not perfect-looking ships directly from the farm to the end user.
Full Harvest is focused on sourcing fruits and vegetables from the the United States' West Coast, Costa Rica and Mexico. The demand for these fresh ingredients emanates from states including Illinois, Texas and California. The tool is provided for free to farmers, and Full Harvest takes a cut per transaction. The farmers make additional revenue, and the wholesale consumers save money.
Reducing food waste is the third most impactful solution to solving climate change, according to the Project Drawdown analysis. Food waste, from the farm to the fork, accounts for about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If 50 percent of food waste is reduced by 2050, the avoided emissions could be equal to 26.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide and prevent 44.4 gigatons of additional emissions from future deforestation.
Full Harvest is a certified organic California Certified Organic Farm broker, and 70 percent of what it sells is organic. This added layer of sustainability is market-driven and includes everything from leafy greens to root vegetables. The company sells close to 30 produce items, with significant decreases in food waste from romaine, kale, chard and celery; the Full Harvest model has helped to change harvesting practices to capture up to 40 percent more of these vegetable products.
Full Harvest is also steadily growing its workforce. With nine employees in California, Full workers wear multiple hats. "Most of our staff came to work here from referrals," said Moseley. "A lot of people are passionate about food waste, but I need hard skills."
Moseley said she looks for a track record in the function required, as well as people who have worked in a start-up and are able to hit the ground running. For anyone wishing to enter the sustainable ag-tech space, Moseley advises to get industry experience first. As a sales operations and technology company, Full Harvest is expanding its executive team in operations, business development and finance, using platforms such as Angel List and LinkedIn to recruit.
"I am proud of our very diverse, yet cohesive team." Moseley said. The company culture values different perspectives, which she believes are critical for problem-solving. For Moseley, "What you see is what you get." Known for her authentic communication, she said she leads by the rule of three: execution; execution; execution. As such, one of the company's biggest challenges is in finding the right talent to match its pace of growth.
"No one has done this before. So our challenge is finding talent for a new industry because the exact prior experience will not exist."
Full Harvest plans to become a fully national platform within the next two years and eventually expand globally. Early investors include Wireframe, BBG, Joanne Wilson and Impact Engine. Together, these investors have had the foresight to plug a hole in the food market and find a home for every "ugly apple." The success of Full Harvest will depend upon the quality and quantity of its supplier relationships and the ability to generate consistent demand from wholesale purchasers. As it does so, it plans to hit the target to prevent 1 billion pounds of produce from going to waste annually.