Ugly Fruit Is Ripe For A Close-Up, As 'Shark Tank' Takes On Food Waste

Jan 8, 2016
Originally published on May 19, 2016 3:21 pm

TV is usually a place where the beautiful people shine. But last night, it was time for the uglies to step into the spotlight — ugly fruits and vegetables, that is.

Evan Lutz of Hungry Harvest, an organization that's trying to turn uglies into a business, appeared on ABC's Shark Tank show Friday night. He wanted to sway the show's deep-pocketed gurus to pour their money into Hungry Harvest's model.

That model relies on rescuing apples, pears, potatoes and other crops that might otherwise have ended up as food waste and selling them to its subscribers in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia at a 20- to 30-percent discount. For every bag of produce it delivers, the company also donates a meal to the hungry.

To be clear, this is produce that's just as nutritious as its more beauteous counterparts. But because it fails to meet supermarkets' beauty standards — usually because of quite minor cosmetic imperfections — it might otherwise have ended up in the landfill. Sometimes, perfectly fine-looking produce gets dumped, too, when farmers grow more than they can sell.

In fact, food waste is the single biggest source of waste in municipal landfills, according to the USDA, and it's a major contributor of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. That's why this fall, the USDA announced a national goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

As we've reported, businesses like Hungry Harvest that aim to fight food waste have been sprouting up recently. Lutz says the company has rescued about 300,000 pounds of produce from a network of farmers and wholesalers since it was founded in May 2014. It's donated about 100,000 pounds of that to feed the needy.

Right now, Lutz tells us, Hungry Harvest has about 600 subscribers. But Lutz tells us "we're expecting to almost double that within the next week or so" in the wake of publicity from the show. Lutz says his pitch asked for a $50,000 investment — to be used mostly for marketing — in return for 5 percent of the company.

UPDATE: Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavec took the bait, investing $100,000 in Hungry Harvest in exchange for 10 percent of the company.

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