“Ugly produce at pretty prices” – Cerplus app curbs food waste in San Francisco

Ugly produce at pretty prices

That is the slogan for Cerplus, an app aiming to prevent food waste. San Francisco foodie Zoe Wong came up with the idea for the app while strolling through farmers markets. Shocked at how much vendors threw away at the end of the day, she decided something needed to be done.

Initially, Wong launched a company called Revive Jams, preserving and reselling unwanted fruits. However, she noticed that food was still being wasted and the cost of preserving and distributing her products was too much for her small business budget.

This was when Cerplus was born.

Cerplus is an online marketplace (for the San Francisco Bay area only -for now!) that connects users with surplus or unwanted fruits and vegetables for a fraction of the cost. Sellers can post produce, buyers browse through potential deals, and Cerplus picks up and delivers the order to the customer. With this method, vendors can still make money on extra or “ugly” produce, consumers get quality, affordable produce, and food waste is drastically reduced.

You can read more about Zoe’s work on the Cerplus website.

(Image from www.getcerplus.com)

 

 

 

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Food rescue retail

Former president of Trader Joe’s, Dough Rauch, has opened a groundbreaking new type of grocery store: a non-profit model that tackles food insecurity, reduces food waste, and promotes good nutrition.  The Daily Table store opened June 4, after managing to pass the hurdles of non-profit approval and convincing authorities that wasted food can be safe and nutritious food. The shop is located in the low income community of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and provides access to healthy food at very low prices.

produce at The Daily Table

This new initiative is a major departure from more traditional food charities. It is strongly committed to providing nutritious meals that can compete with fast food in its price and convenience. At the same time the retailer is committed to preventing food waste by collecting donated food and selling it fresh or transforming it into ready-to-eat meals.The shop is challenging cheap, unhealthy calories in a way that is financially and environmentally sustainable while ensuring the health and dignity of its patrons. There are many non-profits that serve rescued food, but the distinction here is that Daily Table allows customers a choice – they are not simply recipients. Being in a retail space enables Daily table to be grounded in the community, provide employment and training, as well as make money to cover costs. I’m excited to see how this project will fare as it employs it’s innovative approach to food waste, nutrition, and food insecurity.

Check out a National Geographic interview on Daily Table with founder Doug Rauch  here, or more coverage from NPR.

The Beauty of Ugly Fruit

There has been considerable attention given to Loblaws’ recent announcement of their “Naturally Imperfect “product line.  Naturally imperfect will introduce smaller or slightly misshapen food into grocery stores at a discount.  The idea is to reduce the amount of waste upstream in the value chain and to improve access to these products at lower prices.  Seems like a win win!   I’ve had the chance to speak about it several times and, as always, things become clearer after you’ve spoken so a blog post seemed like a great idea.

A Great Idea

Reducing food waste is a great idea.  Its not clear how much of some of this product is getting thrown out versus diverted into processing.  That’s why we need more research on food waste at all stages of the value chain (a shameless plug for our ongoing project).  What is clear is that some small produce is difficult to put through processing and is thrown out.

Improving access to affordable fruits and vegetables is a great idea.  The price for perfection is higher.  While we spend a lower proportion of our income on food than almost anywhere else in the world, we do have food insecure people and others who perhaps eat less fresh healthy produce than they might if it was more affordable.  Why should we hold everyone’s diet hostage to a misguided standard of beauty.  The nutrition is identical.

Raising awareness of food waste is a great idea.  Our research suggests that the more people think about food and waste, the less food they waste.  Just talking about the issue like this has the real potential to reduce household food waste – which we’ve measured at 4.5 kg per household per week.

Is there a downside?

There are folks at some farm organizations saying that this initiative has the potential to erode the prices they receive for their premium produce.  That might be true but its not clear that it will happen.

1 – The economics of this aren’t as clear as the critics might suggest.

  • if consumers don’t buy it, it won’t matter.  I hardly expect that everyone will buy naturally imperfect so premium products will still exist.  If lot’s of them buy it demand will drive the price up.
  • When prices are lower, total demand increases.  The increase in total demand may increase revenues rather than decrease them.  Its not clear what will happen but this is as plausible as decreased revenues.
  • Even if prices come down, the cost of production includes the produce that is thrown away.  Including that in the total sales means revenue should increase.
  • If the price for imperfect food that is not wasted is too low, the product will get diverted to processing markets rather than retail.  The market will figure it out.

2 – This is not the first time I’ve had someone say we should continue to waste food to support farm returns.  I had someone stand up once at a presentation and say we shouldn’t encourage household food waste reduction because it would lower demand and cost jobs and revenue in the production and processing sector.  Its heartbreaking to consider that we would produce food to throw out just to keep people employed.  Even if prices come down (which I argue above is not a sure thing), do we really want to use resources to produce product just to throw it away?  Consumers can and will make the choice.  Change happens.  This position is indefensible and unsustainable.  I can’t imagine making the argument in any other sector.  We should scrap cars off the assembly line just to keep people in Windsor and Oshawa employed?

We should celebrate this initiative.  We should buy these products.  We should expand it to other product.  We should expand it to other stores.  Everyone, including producers, processors and retailers will be better off in the long run.