Urban Remedy Turns Surplus Food into Donations and New Products
Replate spoke with Urban Remedy’s CEO, Paul Coletta, to discuss the efforts his team is making to ensure that they create the least amount of food waste possible. Read about their work below in our latest Community Story.
A Little About Paul:
Paul gives a humble perspective about Urban Remedy’s sustainability efforts and says “We have the right intent, and I think we're always trying to do a little better.”
How did Urban Remedy get involved in donating food with Replate?
I'm not sure where the relationship started, but maybe this is helpful. Here at Urban Remedy, we have a team called the Food Rescue Team. The Food Rescue Team’s goal is to reduce food waste and make sure that any food waste we do produce, we are managing in a socially responsible way. I believe it was that team that reached out to Replate and started the relationship which we have been very happy with.
Perhaps a better question would be why... Why did you want to start donating your surplus food or products in the first place?
Because it's in our company values to do the right thing and throwing out perfectly good food is not the right thing to do.
Why do you think that that is important to take action against food waste and food insecurity?
As a mission oriented company and Certified by B Corp, it's our belief that businesses should try to do well while at the same time doing good. We're talking about healing people and the planet, and so food waste would work against that mission. It would not be in the best interest of our planet to produce food and then throw it away. It's not good for the environment, it's irresponsible. So that's why I think it's important and we've worked on a few different initiatives to reduce waste. This is just one of them.
In an ideal world, we're not creating waste to begin with. That's sort of the first order of business for Urban Remedy - to eliminate waste. The second is do the right thing with the waste we generate. We're always thinking about it from two perspectives.
The reality of my business is we are trying to scale an ultra fresh food model, which is really hard to do when you're looking at an average four day shelf life. There are not many businesses trying to scale food with a four day shelf life. This is food that is highly nutrient dense and, therefore, highly perishable. Food waste is an unfortunate byproduct of what we are trying to do, so we're always trying to get better at reducing it and when we generate it, doing the right thing with it.
One of the initiatives that we got involved with early on is we partnered with a team of students and faculty at UC Davis. They have a food waste team there and [we worked with them] to figure out how we could take the high quality and organic pulp that we generate when we cold press juice, and upcycle it into food. As a result of the work we've done with them and our own work internally, we are generating now about three or four different products that are made primarily from upcycled organic vegetable pulp, specifically our veggie burger, crackers, and granola. They're all upcycled from waste or yield that happens upstream in our process. We work with Replate to repurpose our downstream, what we call ‘purge.’ These are items that have passed their expiration date and would be discarded if we weren't to donate them.
It sounds like you are tackling food waste from multiple angles. I didn't know that you were upcycling the byproducts of the cold press juices, that's really cool.
Yes, and let me be clear, we're not doing enough. We need to be doing more and it's my hope at some point that we will hire somebody whose exclusive job is to figure out how to upcycle our food. We will use close to 8 million pounds of organic produce in 2019. That's a lot of produce! Everything we do is certified organic. This is a high quality product we're dealing with. The process that we use to make a lot of our food creates varying levels of yield. We're always trying to find ways [to reuse] but I would say that we could do better, we could upcycle more. What we are doing with the majority of our pulp is sending it to hog and goat farmers for seed. We try to send very little to landfill.
I know you have your Food Rescue Team, but how does the rest of your internal team support the efforts of food donation?
What I love about it as a CEO, I did not create the Food Rescue Team. It was the culture at Urban Remedy, which is a culture of empowerment, and change, and creativity - three important values [to us.] I found out about it months after it had been organically created. What I think it has done for the organization is that it’s given a larger sense of purpose. This idea that ‘food is healing for people and planet’ is another way to activate our mission. I don't feel good about creating the purge. My first order of business is eliminate that all together, but I do feel good about how we distribute that purge in a responsible way. I think the organization feels good about it as well.
What is your hope for the community who is receiving these nutrient dense products that Urban Remedy is donating?
One of the things I'm really proud of at Urban Remedy is the quality and integrity of the products we sell. We sell a very high quality, high integrity product. We don't play a lot of the games some food companies play with our ingredients and our products.
I've always said the value of our products is very high, but it's not always affordable for everyone. The fact that people that might be receiving one of our products through Replate and wouldn't necessarily be able to afford it in the marketplace addresses one of the other challenges I think our industry has, which is ‘how do we make our food more affordable?’ It feels good to be able to reach more people that are in need of nutrient dense and ultra fresh clean food. I hope that this industry gets to a place, or this company gets to a place, where we can make ultra fresh clean and convenient food more affordable.
You are doing a lot of initiatives to reduce your waste, and I know that your bottles for your juices and foods are in recycled plastic. A there any other efforts Urban Remedy is doing to make a positive impact on the planet or the community?
Well, you notice that we don't do a lot of promotion around the fact that we use 100% recycled plastic across all of our packaging. We want to move away from plastic all together and we're working on it. The best thing I can say is we don't use virgin plastic and that cost us more. A lot of people might think using recycled plastic saves the company money, it doesn’t. It actually costs us premium, but again it's in our values. It's the right thing to do. It's the decision we made and I would call that progress, not perfect. The next step is to move away from plastic all together, and that's not easy. It'll take time, but stay tuned! We're looking at it.
Last thing, what is it about working with Replate that you like?
One of the things I liked from the beginning is the fact that Replate was a nonprofit. Not all of the food rescue companies that we deal with are nonprofits. That was one of the first things that appealed to us. The second is the Food Rescue Team at Urban Remedy has really enjoyed working with the people at Replate.
That is really good to hear because we are also excited about Urban Remedy and what you all are doing. We know the products that you donate serves our community in a really positive way!