‘Shark Tank’ Throws Its Weight Behind Ugly Food

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Photo via NPR.org

We wrote recently about the movement, now gaining traction around the world, to reduce food waste by selling and promoting ugly produce – the kind of fruits and vegetables that are still perfectly edible, but because of minor blemishes or abnormalities will often bypass the grocery store and head straight for the landfill. Besides the troubling statistics on food waste in a country where 48 million Americans struggle to get enough to eat, this discarded produce is also a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The ugly food movement is the sort of appealing initiative that can combat social ills (like hunger and climate change) while still providing a clear path to profitability. Both those factors seem to be paying off with some major momentum: on Friday night’s episode of the reality show Shark Tank (the ABC hit that has entrepreneurs pitch their start-ups to a ruthless panel of investors), investor Robert Herjavec plunked down $100,000 for a 10% stake in Hungry Harvest, an ugly food delivery service. This number was twice what CEO Evan Lutz had originally asked for.

Hungry Harvest operates by “rescuing” food which would otherwise be discarded from farmers and grocery stores, and selling it at a 20 to 30% discount. For each bag of produce delivered, the company also donates a meal to the hungry. As of the show’s taping, Lutz said Hungry Harvest had 600 subscribers, but expected that number to double from Shark Tank publicity alone. The investment and press combined put Lutz in a good position to expand quickly and become a household name, but expect competitors to crop up as well. Whichever company ultimately takes the lion’s share of the market, ugly food is good news for everyone.

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