Ugly but lovely, imperfect, misfit, cosmetically challenged, produce with personality — whatever you call it, the wonky fruits and vegetables movement has gained traction within the last year, and Spoiler Alert is working to help farmers make the most of their oddly shaped and blemished product.
We all know that a lot of great produce is often left in the fields because of cosmetic damage, irregular sizes, or lack of market. According to the ReFed report (Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data) that was released in early 2016 from a collaboration of 30+ businesses, nonprofits, foundations and government leaders committed to reducing United States food waste, 16% of food is wasted at the farm-level. That’s equivalent to 10 million tons and translates to $15 billion in lost financial value for farms every year.
Spoiler Alert is a Boston-based technology company working to tackle this problem. Founded out of MIT, Spoiler Alert helps farms and other food businesses create or recover value from food that would otherwise go to waste. The B2B technology platform enables farmers to sell or donate excess product, seconds and ugly produce. Here’s how it works: 1) Food businesses and farms post surplus food either for sale or donation to the online platform, which triggers real-time notifications to potential recipients. 2) Interested organizations can claim the post and coordinate the logistics via in-app, email, or text messages. 3) Both parties receive automated receipts to track transactions, aggregate data and assist with claiming tax benefits.
New market opportunities are beginning to emerge around the country for previously unsaleable product, which is good news for farmers who may be able to supply ugly but lovely produce to CSA programs, cold-pressed juices, soups and as ingredients for other value-added products.
“It’s our intention with Spoiler Alert to be a market maker for these opportunities,” said one of Spoiler Alert Co-Founders, Emily Malina.
Even if farmers are already donating to local food pantries and soup kitchens, they can use Spoiler Alert to directly notify those recipients of available surplus food. “Oftentimes, farmers are donating their seconds and surplus to nearby nonprofits, but they aren’t properly documenting the donations and are losing out on tax benefits for those food donations,” said Ricky Ashenfelter, CEO of Spoiler Alert
In fact, in December 2015, Congress passed new legislation that gives farms the ability to take advantage of significant tax savings for food donations for the first time ever.
Since launching in New England at the end of 2015, nearly 200 organizations have signed up to use the platform, which includes food businesses, farms and nonprofits. “One of our most active group of users are farmers in Maine, who use Spoiler Alert for their gleaning efforts,” said Malina. “They’ve been able to donate over 1,300 lbs. of gleaned produce using our platform.”
“Right now, we’ve been focusing on acting as a secondary market and donation platform for edible, surplus food, but we see Spoiler Alert serving as an outlet for organic waste as well, where farmers could source animal feed and compost,” said Ashenfelter. “We joined the New England Farmers Union because we want to help farmers make the most of their seconds and surplus.”