Today Full Harvest closed an $8.5 million Series A funding round led by Spark Capital with participation from Wireframe Ventures, Rent the Runway founder Jenny Fleiss, Cultivan Sandbox Ventures, and others.
The San Francisco-based startup, which was founded in 2015, is a business-to-business produce marketplace for cosmetically imperfect (or “ugly”) fruits and vegetables. They connect farmers with food and beverage companies which use produce to make blended and processed finished products, like juice, kombucha, or sauerkraut. That way, the aesthetics don’t come into play.
Founder and CEO Christine Moseley got the idea for Full Harvest while she was working at Organic Avenue, a cold-pressed juice company. “They were paying top dollar for perfect-looking produce that they were immediately processing,” she told me over the phone. Which meant that they had to charge a super-high price — $13 per juice — to make a profit.
A self-professed “longtime entrepreneur,” Moseley started looking for innovative ways to bring down the company’s food costs. The lightbulb moment came when she was visiting the largest romaine farm in the country and saw that they only harvested about 20% of their crop. The rest — heads of lettuce that didn’t meet grocery retailers’ aesthetic standards, and therefore couldn’t be sold — were turned back into the dirt to decompose. “That produce would have been perfect for the Organic Avenues of the world,” said Moseley.
So she decided to apply her business acumen to the agricultural industry and tackle post-harvest produce waste not as a sustainability problem (though it is), but as an economic one.
The first step: creating the technology to support a marketplace for the imperfect produce. Moseley likens Full Harvest to Airbnb: “Before Airbnb, you probably would never have thought to rent your room out for the weekend, since you’d have to coordinate all the logistics yourself,” she explained. “That’s where we’re at in the world of agriculture today.”
Currently, growers have to spend hours on the phone coordinating sales — and still, Moseley told me that almost 60% of them are on the brink of bankruptcy. Full Harvest opens up a new revenue stream for growers by connecting them with buyers who will buy produce that’s too ugly for the grocery store shelves at a cheaper price than the cosmetically perfect stuff. Farmers get more money, food companies get better deals on produce, which they pass on to the consumer.
Full Harvest markets themselves as the only B2B marketplace which covers the entire end-to-end sale of imperfectly formed produce.”You can view it as an Amazon-like experience,” said Moseley. “We don’t actually make or touch the product, but we coordinate logistics and make sure the product shows up on time as promised.” At the moment they’re still pretty far from Amazon-sized, though; they’re a managed marketplace, and each participating buyer and supplier is vetted before they can join.
They certainly came along at the right time: food waste is a hot-button issue, with startups cropping up to mitigate the staggering amount of food wasted throughout the supply chain. “I would say that it could not have been more perfect timing,” said Moseley. “We found a problem, and very shortly afterwards people became aware of it.”
Imperfect Produce is another startup capitalizing on the recent trend towards “ugly” fruits and vegetables. But while Imperfect facilitates the delivery of said produce from the growers to consumers’ doorsteps, Full Harvest focuses on the B2B side of things.
According to Moseley, so far Full Harvest’s efforts have increased profits for at least one farm partner by 12% per acre. The marketplace also saves their partner CPG companies 10-30% off their produce costs. To date, the startup has facilitated the sale of almost 7 million pounds of fruits and vegetables.
Which is still small potatoes in the overall fight against food waste. According to the Ugly Fruit and Veggie Campaign, 20-40% of all produce goes to waste because of strict grocery standards. That translates to about 20 billion pounds of food per year.
But now they have some serious capital behind them: this funding round will bring Full Harvest’s total money raised to $10.5 million. Moseley said that the company will use its new funds to scale up its tech platform, expand its market reach, and grow its team from 10 people to 30-40.
And this is just the start. “There’s a huge scalable business opportunity here,” said Moseley. The good news? The more this company scales, the more produce they save. I’ll cheers an ugly fruit-based kombucha to that.