Episode 6: Food Waste with Ann Yang and Phil Wong (Misfit Juicery)
Ann Yang and Phil Wong recently started a company called Misfit Juicery that takes so-called "ugly" produce and turns it into delicious cold-pressed juice. These young, motivated entrepreneurs sit down with us to talk about their company and food waste more generally. By the end, we think you'll agree that food waste is a major problem that can be mitigated and that produce beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Updated Episode Intro Notes
A lot of what we said in our 2016 intro still holds. For one, NRDC came out in 2017 with a second version of its landmark Wasted report from 2012 and said it doesn’t have the data to say whether we are wasting less food five years later. So, America is likely still wasting 40% of its food from farm to fork to landfill, and we found articles saying we still waste a third of food globally, which is enough to feed the world’s hungry four times over. So still an obscene amount of waste.
First let’s talk food labels. We discussed how confusing sell by and best by dates lead to food being thrown away that is perfectly fine to eat. Well the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Manufacturing Institute launched an initiative in 2017 to limit the food labels to just “best if used by” and “use by.” They’re trying to weed out the myriad of other vague terms like Expires On, Best Before, Better if Used By or Best By. Thanks in part to this initiative, 87% of products now carry one of these two choices.
We also discussed how In September 2015, USDA and EPA announced the first-ever national food waste reduction goal of 50% reduction by 2030. Well that’s still the goal. But in October 2018, the EPA, USDA, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a new initiative to move toward this goal. It has a great name. “Winning on Reducing Food Waste.” Because what Trump administration policy isn’t about winning? The agreement affirms a shared commitment to reducing food loss and waste (remember, there’s a difference!) and commits them to developing a strategic plan for coordination and communication among the EPA, FDA and USDA.
Last year NRDC did a study of three cities--Denver, New York City, and Nashville. It found that 68% of the residential food waste in those cities was potentially edible. The average household was wasting 3.5 pounds of food per week. Check out this report since it does a nice job discussing policy changes to reduce this waste including better public education and increased food recovery activities like diverting food scraps to animal feed. By the way, check out Tristram Stuart’s Ted Talk on how feeding scraps to livestock can help tackle the food waste crisis. It blew our minds a little bit. He explains how we save way more carbon by feeding food scraps to pigs than saving it via anaerobic digestion.
ReFed released a 2018 U.S. Food Waste Investment Report showing trends in private, public, and philanthropic capital. ReFED is a multi-stakeholder nonprofit, powered by an influential network of the nation’s leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste. Check out its website since it has a ton of great info including a Roadmap to Reduce Food Waste. The Roadmap said $18 billion in funding is needed to reduce U.S. food waste 20% over a ten year period. The Investment Report shows some capital is starting to be mobilized.
For example, in the private sector, more than $125 million of venture capital and private equity funding has been invested in food waste startups including Apeel Sciences and Full Harvest during the first 10 months of 2018.
Check out this report for so many more facts and insights than we have time to cover here.
Karma is an app which enables consumers to buy unsold food from restaurants, cafes and grocery stores at half the normal price towards the end of the day. It has over 400,000 users and works with 1,500 businesses in Sweden and London.
Olio is an app that started in 2015 to connect people who wanted to hand over edible food. Some give food from their homes. Businesses that use it pay a fee, and their food is collected from 2700 trained volunteers, who OLIO calls Food Waste Heroes. OLIO has 780,000 users. More than half of the listings on Olio come off in under two hours. It has raised $8.2 million and will be adding small premium services. With Olio, food has been shared in more than 30 countries including the USA.
If you found these two apps of interest, check out GreenBiz’s article titled “16 Apps Helping Companies and Consumers Prevent Food Waste.”
Apeel Sciences recently released an edible coating called edipeel that can extend fruit or vegetable shelf life by as much as five times. Made of leftover plant skins and stems, the coating acts as a barrier that slows the decay process. It’s raised more than $100 million from investors including Bill Gates. It’s now piloting edipeel-applied avocados that last twice as long in more than 100 midwest grocery stores including 30 Costco locations.
Last year, Australia set a target to reduce the amount of food waste it generates by 50% by 2030. To help achieve the country’s food waste target, the Australian Government decided to invest 1.2 million dollars over two years to support food rescue organisations. In 2016, France became the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food. It also requires good quality food before it’s “best before” date to be donated to food banks. If you’re interested in US food waste policies, check out ReFed’s U.S. Food Waste Policy Finder. It’s updated regularly.
Latest on Misfit
So first there’s this--it’s now “Misfit Foods”. In October 2018, Phil and Ann announced that they have stopped juice production so they can focus 100% on developing products that address the full spectrum of waste in supply chains.
So why the switch? Well Ann and Phil recognize that there is so much more to the food waste issue than “ugly” produce. For example, they note that that scrap waste from carrot sticks, romaine hearts, and veggie noodles is a huge source of waste. Also, avocado oil production only uses 11% of the whole fruit. Their new products will transform the biggest food supply chain inefficiencies into delicious, highly nutritious, plant-forward products.
Phil and Ann want you to be part of the product development process. You can join their Innovation Odd Squad by going to misfitoddsquad.com.
When will the new products launch? Phil and Ann say it will be some time in 2019. Of course if you join their Odd Squad, they’ll let you know about the launch, but you can also follow us on twitter or facebook or Instagram or sign up for our newsletter via our website and we’ll let you know too.
Original Episode Research
What we’ll cover
Food waste generally
More on Misfit Juicery and similar companies
What we can do
Food waste Generally
What is food waste? This is food that is intended for human consumption but then for various reasons is removed from the human food chain (2).
Food loss vs. food waste (2):
Food Loss refers to food that gets spilled, spoilt or otherwise lost, or incurs reduction of quality and value during its process in the food supply chain before it reaches its final product stage. Food loss typically takes place at production, post-harvest, processing and distribution stages in the food supply chain.
Food waste refers to food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product, of good quality and fit for consumption, but still doesn't get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil. Food waste typically (but not exclusively) takes place at retail and consumption stages in the food supply chain.
One-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US $1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. When this figure is converted to calories, this means that about 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten (1)
Helpful Resource: 2013 Report by UNEP and the World Resources Institute titled “World Resources Report 2013-2014: Creating a Sustainable Food Future.”
Americans throw out the equivalent of $165 billion of good food each year and will toss a whopping $282 million of uneaten turkey into the trash at Thanksgiving. On average, they throw away 20 pounds of food each month, which amounts to about $1,560 a year for a family of four, about 10 per cent of the average food budget, and amounts to 2 million calories according to United States Department of Agriculture (3). That’s just one family of four!
From 1974 to 2006, the amount of food Americans wasted increased by 50 percent (7).
Reducing food losses by just 15% would provide enough food for more than 25 million Americans a year (5).
Between 20 and 30% of post-harvest produce is rejected by farmers due to the strict aesthetic standards of grocery stores. 6 billion pounds of fresh, yet imperfect, produce goes unsold or unharvested every year.
In April 2016, Whole Foods launched a pilot program in California where it teamed up with a company called Imperfect Produce to sell “misshapen, bruised, or otherwise ‘imperfect’ fruits and vegetables in their stores” (8).
Imperfect Produce, which launched in summer 2015, currently delivers misshapen produce at a 30 percent discount rate to some 2,700 customers in the Oakland and Berkeley area. The company hopes to expand to most major American cities in the next three to five years.
Ugly produce is successfully sold in other parts of the world. In 2014, France’s third-largest supermarket chain, Intermarché, launched a program to sell “ugly” produce at a 30 percent discount. Consumers loved it, and store traffic rose 24 percent. Loblaws, Canada’s largest food retailer, also sells misshapen produce at a discounted rate.
Misfit Juicery and Other Companies (11)
Phil Wong and Ann Yang met in an entrepreneurship class at Georgetown.
Currently operates out of a commercial kitchen space in northeast DC called Mess Hall.
Currently selling in more than 50 stores in DC region and expanding to NYC later this year.
Featured in Cosmopolitan in April 2016 (get your sex tips and get the latest juice news apparently, haha) (9).
Misfit’s five juice blends contain 70-80 percent “ugly” and surplus produce. While the company is working to increase that percentage, some of the ingredients, like ginger and lemons, require traditional sourcing (10).
Turns excess apples into neatly packaged dehydrated chips
A community-supported agriculture (CSA) that delivers ugly and excess produce to the Baltimore and DC region. It’s boxes are half the price of conventional CSAs.
Turns the produce pulp left from juicing into turmeric vinegar and a Japanese seasoning called furikake.
What we can do
Think.Eat.Save campaign is a partnership that includes the United Nations Environmental Program and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that tries to create awareness worldwide for how we can reduce food waste. The name of this campaign conveniently serves as three categories of tips on how to reduce food waste.
Think. Be a smart shopper. Use shopping lists, plan meals, take home leftovers. Check to see if food has actually gone bad (don’t just go by the dates on the product).
Dates on the product. Don’t trust these! There is a lack of federal regulation except for certain baby products. States regulate but how they do varies greatly. For instance, Montana throws more milk down the drain than other states because the sell-by date on the milk is required by state law to be just 12 days after pasteurization (the industry standard is 21 days). After these 12 days, Montana law requires that the milk be thrown away. It can’t be sold or donated. Thousands of gallons of milk are thrown away each week that many believe is perfectly fine to drink (4). This standard hasn’t been updated since the 1980s and many see it as protecting the dairy industry in Montana. Nine states don’t require labels on any foods. Many manufacturers put a date on their product not based on the date it will go bad but to ensure the customer uses it by a date that the product will taste its best so the customer is most likely to enjoy it and buy it again. Ultimately, with different standards and manufacturers putting the dates on there for different reasons, we are left with a confusing system with different consumer messaging: sell by, consume by, enjoy by, best by, expires on, etc. As many as 90% of americans throw out food based on food labels.
More details in the podcast 99% Invisible in a January 2016 episode titled “Best Enjoyed By.”
The former president of Trader Joes opened a store in Boston that sells packaged food past its “sell by” date at a deep discount.
Eat. Be a mindful eater. Order only portions that you’ll eat.
Eat what’s left in your fridge. There are websites to help you get creative with what food you have around the house.
Save. Donate to food banks and become a conscious consumer.
In September 2015, USDA and EPA announced the first-ever national food waste reduction goal of 50% reduction by 2030 (5).