Saving Surplus Produce, and Growing Mushrooms in Coffee Grounds

June 3, 2013 at 10:15 am | Posted in Deals | 2 Comments
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A new partnership between supermarkets and a savvy startup is saving consumers lots of cash, making the earth a greener place and keeping good food from becoming landfill. In other words, it’s a scavenger’s triple-decker dream come true.

Andronico’s Community Markets, a group comprising five supermarkets, signed on six months ago with FoodStar, a Bay Area outfit that reduces waste and food costs by selling less-than-perfect produce at extremely low prices. FoodStar locates and acquires bruised, blemished and otherwise second-string fruits and vegetables that would typically be categorized as “surplus,” allowing farmers to receive payment for these goods and allowing the goods to appear in supermarkets at steep discounts. These deals are noted at the FoodStar website and are clearly signposted at the stores; check out these potatoes at Andronico’s in Berkeley:

foodstar potatoes

“While selling from the same open bin of apples that the grower sends to us may seem simple, it actually represents a significant departure from how things are normally done in the grocery business,” explains Andronico’s executive director of marketing Jonathan Packman. “By eliminating the labor cost and case packaging normally involved in merchandising apples, we can offer a much lower retail price to our customers.

Phase two of the partnership involves “flash sales” on surplus produce that is already stocked in stores. Such produce is placed in FoodStar bags and sold for fifty cents a pound, across the board.

“Ron Clark, Food Star’s manager, has had a long-standing relationship in the produce industry in Northern California, and taps into his network to find solid ‘opportunity buys’ when they come up,” Packman explains. “He looks for recently picked crops that might be partially comprised of below-grade produce. This product is perfectly wholesome, but it may not meet the retail food industries standards for aesthetics. This is the type of opportunity that Ron seizes upon.

“Both FoodStar and Andronico’s benefit financially, but aside from them and the consumer the real winner is society and the planet,” Packman adds. “By developing this innovative program, food waste is prevented, and this helps to keep food prices lower, while keeping food out of landfills.

“Landfills are expensive to operate and when they are full they need to be shut down, capped and closed and new landfills need to be sited.  It is in everyone’s best interest to limit the amount of land that has to be dedicated to landfills.  Also, since agriculture tends to be energy intensive, utilizing food that would normally be wasted reduces pollution and climate change by taking advantage of what has been grown.”

FoodStar expects to form partnerships with more supermarkets this year.

The photograph above, showing the FoodStar bargain potatoes, includes yet another scavenging story. At the left of the photo is a rack of Back to the Roots mushroom-growing kits. These kits are the dreamchild of Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, who were UC Berkeley seniors a few weeks away from graduation when they got the idea of home-growing mushrooms in scavenged coffee grounds.

After growing an experimental bucket of oyster mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds in a frat-house kitchen, the pair raised interest from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse and garnered a $5,000 social-innovation grant from the UC Berkeley chancellor. Their first product was the Grow-at-Home Mushroom Kit that appears in this pic.

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