EcoScraps: Sowing Success from Wasted Food

Food System
Jun 1st, 2014 | By Gray Peckham

If you’ve been keeping up with Sustainable America, you know that we’re on a mission to divert food waste from landfills and repurpose it into sustainable, value-added products like compost. We’re happy to report that we’ve closed our first compost-related investment in an exciting young company that does just that: EcoScraps.

The Sandy, Utah-based business collects fruit and vegetable scraps from grocery stores and wholesale produce providers and turns it into nutrient-rich, organic garden products like compost, potting mix and natural fertilizer. The EcoScraps line is sold in some of the same stores that supply the scraps, creating a tidy, full-circle process.

EcoScraps has recycled over 15 million pounds of food waste to date, was rated one of the most promising social ventures in America by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and has achieved strong sales growth with it’s products now on shelves at major garden center retailers like Home Depot, Target, Walmart and Lowe’s. That’s an impressive resume for a company that is just over three years old, and indicative of the appetite for products that are based on sustainable waste-to-value principles.

The EcoScraps Story
EcoScraps founders, Dan Blake and Craig Martineau, started thinking about food waste as college students when they ate at an all-you-can-eat buffet and noticed how much food was being thrown away. They began to search for solutions and learned that fruit and vegetable waste could be converted into nutrient-rich compost instead of ending up in a landfill. As promising business students, they saw an opportunity to create a product with free input materials (people throw it away!), and a business was born.

Since that time, the company has been hard at work meeting the myriad challenges that early-stage businesses must overcome to be successful: developing a good product, forging relationships to sell and distribute the product, hiring a good team, and most of all, adapting on the fly to evolving business conditions in a new market that is rapidly changing. Take, for instance, new regulatory changes around mandatory commercial-scale food waste capture in the Northeast, which creates opportunities as well as challenges. EcoScraps has navigated many of these monumental challenges and today has products approved for organic use on shelves coast-to-coast. And you really can buy it almost anywhere. Our founder bought a bag at a local Target here in Connecticut as part of our diligence process – and his garden likes it!

From an impact standpoint, we’ve catalogued the benefits of diverting food waste, but the statistics are worth repeating. Up to 40% of the food grown in the U.S. goes uneaten. In addition to the wasted resources (water, energy) that go into producing the food in the first place, and the waste the agricultural system generates, wasted food rotting in landfills releases methane, which is 20 times more damaging to the environment than CO2, according to the EPA. By EcoScraps’ calculation, rotting food waste creates as much pollution as 1.9 million cars running for a year. Stunning. But we’ve got hope that entrepreneurial companies like EcoScraps will be able to take a lot of that waste out of the equation and that their success spawns other similar products.

Investing for Impact
From Sustainable America’s standpoint, we’re pleased to be invested in EcoScraps for a number of reasons, ranging from its alignment with our mission to the potential for the company to generate significant financial returns on our investment. EcoScraps is helping to bring food waste capture and composting to a larger, mainstream audience that cares about using quality organic garden products but may not have the space, knowledge or wherewithal to compost on their own. Similarly, EcoScraps is helping to develop a larger commercial end-market for compost. We’re believers in the power of markets, and if large-scale generators of food waste, haulers of food waste, and municipalities see that diverting food waste to other products is a viable business model, then we’re confident that profit motive will incent interested parties to act accordingly.

But we can’t just invest in social and environmental causes — we need to ensure we have a chance to make money so that our investing program can be sustainable and we can fund more deserving startups in the future. Fortunately, EcoScraps has a real shot at success, in our view, due to its first-mover status, savvy marketing, nimble business model, and an evolving market both on the feedstock (diverted food waste) and product (adoption of natural-based products by consumers) sides of the equation.
We sometimes think there’s a lot of mystery around the emerging category of “impact investing,” but at its core, the idea is really simple: We should all be rooting for EcoScraps to succeed, because as its sales grow, so does the amount of food diverted from the landfill. Simple.

EcoScraps now goes into our small but growing portfolio of sustainable agriculture and energy-oriented early-stage businesses. To date, our investments have been agriculture-related, but we’re working on a number of opportunities in transportation that seek to reduce oil usage, and we’ll have more to report in the near future.

If you are new to the idea of impact investing, and want to know more about how we do it, check out our blog post Investing in a Sustainable Future.

Thanks for your time, and as always, thank you for your support.

Gray Peckham
Director of Investments, Sustainable America

Tagged: food waste, compost, gardening, food system, food, Gray Peckham, startups, impact investing, investing, Sustainable America investments, waste-to-value, EcoScraps, Food & Farms

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