Our next installment in the Food Recovery Spotlight series takes us to the Bay Area where jam manufacturer Revive Foods makes its home. In 2014, friends Zoe Wong and Kay Feker co-founded Revive Foods. Wong and Feker are seeking to address the serious issue of food waste.
The company name “Revive” speaks to the business purpose: give produce a second chance to be eaten instead of crowding landfills. Revive Foods repurposes cosmetically challenged fruit by making it into tasty jam. Although ugly fruit, as it is sometimes called, is nutritious and delicious it often does not receive the recognition and love it deserves because of its appearance. Feker and Wong prefer the name “zonky fruit’ to describe bruised, overripe or cosmetically challenged fruit. The jam itself is made with an emphasis on fruit, rather than excessive amounts of sugar and chemicals.
Both young women are purposeful about their company’s mission and want food recovery to become the norm and not the exception. “We hope to be a part of bringing this movement to the forefront of people’s minds starting at the farm level to the consumer level to the large food corporations. We adamantly believe that everyone has their part to play in this movement and we hope to see more companies embracing similar practices and business models,” Feker said.
Revive Foods: We live in California where we grow about 50% of our country’s produce – so we see a huge opportunity to start our work here and capture a ton of produce before it’s wasted. And we thought a great way to give this produce a longer life is to preserve it. We’re not using a ton of sugar, instead, we’re preserving them in as healthy and tasty a way as possible.
TA: How do you obtain excess produce? Does Revive Foods buy the food or receive donations?
Revive Foods: We are partnered with wholesale produce distributors whom we pick up from on a weekly basis: The SF Wholesale Produce Market, Earl’s Organic, Veritable Vegetable, and S & L Produce. We receive donations and buy the produce at a discounted price. Whether or not we pay for the produce depends on the amount, quality, and variety of produce which is determined on a weekly basis when we are on-site with our wholesale partners.
TA: You mentioned that Revive Foods does not use an excessive amount of sugar in its products. How is Revive Foods fighting the obesity epidemic?
Revive Foods: We know that jam is not going to help alleviate the obesity epidemic, nor is that our primary mission or objective. However, we concentrate on only producing food products that are healthier alternatives to the traditional store product. In other words, our jams are fruit forward – they concentrate on making the fruit the star of the show and contain significantly less sugar than the average jam found at the market.
TA: Did either of you have a food background? Did either of you make jam as a child?
Revive Foods: Kay has always been passionate about the power of food – from the way we interact with it through sensory experiences, to the way it empowers our bodies, to its ability to connect people. During her time in college, Kay founded and ran her own healthy food truck with a mission to cultivate a wellness hub. She sincerely believes that food possesses the power and we possess the ability to cultivate and cherish food in meaningful ways. Neither Kay nor Zoe were necessarily avid jam makers prior to Revive, but we both have made jam casually with our families when we were younger.
TA: Please explain for our readers what kind of preserves does Revive Foods make?
Revive Foods: Due to the nature of our business (recovering surplus produce), our jams are seasonal. We have experimented with a wide range of fruits to craft recipes that we like so if/when the next time we obtain a large quantity of a particular fruit, we’ll have the recipe ready to go. Our jams are low in sugar but high in flavor and are made with only real ingredients.
TA: How do you determine what flavors to produce?
Revive Foods: We are very seasonal. We will obtain more produce in larger quantities during that crop’s particular season. For example, this last week, we just made our first summer batch of blueberries because we got 300 lbs of local organic blueberries.
TA: Are you two the only jam makers?
Revive Foods: Currently, we are the only core team members. So we’ve been primarily responsible for all of production to date. However, we have had a handful of great volunteers who have helped us out in the kitchen as well.
TA: Who are your primary customers?
Revive Foods: We launched our online sales in May and have just started our first wholesale account sales. We sold wholesale to Square where our jams are featured in house for the employees as well as to Hotwire/Expedia.
TA: How much does a jar of jam cost?
Revive Foods: Our 9 oz. jars of jam cost $7.99.
TA: How did Kay and Zoe meet?
Revive Foods: Zoe and I were introduced through a mutual friend and mentor, Robert Egger. Robert is the founder of DC Central Kitchen and LA Kitchen and remains to be a strong mentor for both of us. He knew we were both in the Bay Area and had similar interests so he introduced us over email and we took it from there.
TA: I read that Revive Foods competed and won in the UT Food Lab Competition. Could you talk a bit about the competition? How did you prepare for this event?
Revive Foods: The Food Challenge Prize is an early stage business startup competition encouraging innovation in four key categories within the global food system: (1) Inputs & Production, (2) Processing, Packaging & Safety, (3) Storage and Distribution, and (4) Healthy Eating & Nutrition. The first entry was a written application. The semi-final and finalist round were in person rounds at UT Austin. During the semi-finalist round, several judges came around during a two hour period to speak with each of the teams. After answering a host of questions in speedy science fair fashion, the judges reconvened to select the finalists. The finalists then had 3 minutes to give a pitch to the audience and the judges. The winners of each category were then chosen. We prepared for the event by attempting to cover as much ground as possible. We thoroughly prepared information on all of the judging criteria in addition to drafting a pitch and pitch deck in case we were chosen as finalists. We placed first in the Inputs & Production category.
TA: What hurdles have you encountered in starting Revive Foods?
Revive Foods: There are three areas that continue to prove challenging. First, since the US is still not using surplus produce in a commonplace manner, it remains to be a dynamic challenge in strategically marketing our products to break the misconception that surplus equates to low quality. We’ve actively taken this challenge on by exposing as many consumers as possible to our products so they can experience firsthand the taste and quality of our products. Second, it has been a challenge recovering at the retail level as we never knew what or how much of something we would be getting. At the same time, this gave us the chance to experiment with as much produce as possible and really narrow down our core flavors we plan on launching with. Lastly, as we begin to formalize larger scale fruit recovery partnerships, scaling production remains a hurdle. We plan on working with a co-packer in the near future, however, until then Zoe and I are still doing all of the production ourselves.
TA: What has surprised you the most about running Revive Foods?
Revive Foods: The overwhelming positive momentum has been phenomenal. We both feel as though we are just at the tip of the iceberg.
TA: What gets you excited about going to work every day?
Revive Foods: The enormous potential for scaling this model. Food waste is a national large scale problem and we hope Revive can be at the forefront of breaking common misconceptions and aiding in encouraging a sustainable foodscape.
TA: What do you think is the biggest hurdle in the food recovery movement?
Revive Foods: Right now, the biggest hurdle is the lack of education and awareness surrounding the gravity of the issue. The U.S. values and champions this idea of false perfection when it comes to the food we choose to make visible and available. There is no reason that our produce should be judged so harshly based upon its cosmetic makeup. These are not celebrities we’re talking about, this is our food ecosystem. Not only are we devaluing taste and nutritional value, we’re simply cultivating a negative cycle of false expectations and waste.
TA: What do you think is the future of food?
Revive Foods: We both hope that the future of food gives way to a more sustainable culture that encourages people to both enjoy what real food tastes like and reap the nutritional benefits food has to provide. Furthermore, we both hope to see a substantial decrease in waste both on individual and systemic levels.
Jam is available for purchase on the company’s website.