April 20, 2016

Juicery saves wasted produce

It started as a class project.

MISFIT Juicery founders Ann Yang and Phil Wong started their business as a class project.
MISFIT Juicery founders Ann Yang and Phil Wong started their business as a class project.

Phil Wong and Ann Yang developed their concept for MISFIT Juicery while taking a “Launching a Venture” class at Georgetown University. With a shared interest in social justice issues, they made food waste and how to tackle it the focus of their efforts.

Out of that grew their concept for MISFIT Juicery, which involves using fresh produce that is still edible but otherwise deemed as waste to process into fresh bottled juices. With mentorship from Alyssa Lovegrove, who teaches in the business school at Georgetown and is codirector of its Entrepreneurship Initiative, they developed a business plan and began looking for sources of product as well as experimenting with recipes and processes.

“Typically, we have a couple students every year whose products really stand the test of time,” Lovegrove said.

Wong and Yang, both 22, hope theirs will be one of them. They began by sourcing produce from farmers at a local farmers market and testing flavors. Now they get it from a variety of farmers and distributors including Baldor Specialty Foods, from whom they obtain leftover scraps from Baldor’s fresh-cut produce processing line.

“We have other partners who are giving us ugly fruits, weirdly shaped, some are bruised,” Wong said. “At the end of the day, it’s all stuff that is characterized as misfits — perfectly good to eat, but it wouldn’t make it to market otherwise because of size, shape, color.”

“It’s a little bit of an unusual supply chain — there’s no question about that,” Lovegrove said. “And they’re trying to do something in a slightly unconventional way.

“It feels like the time is right. There’s a lot of attention to food waste, and they’re getting a lot of support from people in the industry who were thinking about this anyway.”

After experimenting, they opted for a cold-press process, which they felt retained more of the nutrients and flavors than other options, followed by high pressure processing (HPP). Obtaining a juicer and finding a home in the Mess Hall kitchen incubator in Washington, D.C., while sending product offsite for HPP, they were ready to go.

Wong and Yang did a soft launch in late 2014, formally starting production and distribution in January 2015 to just a few on-campus accounts. Now they’re self-distributing five varieties to 40 locations around Washington, D.C. The 12-oz. bottles retail for around $6.

misfitjuice“My company is a climate change-motivated company, and one of our business values is we grow small business along with our own,” said Danielle Vogel, owner of two Glen’s Garden Market locations in Washington, D.C., and one of MISFIT’s first accounts. “Their no-waste mandate is consistent with our mission and values. It was a natural fit.

“Their juices do really, really well, and when people learn the story, they become repeat customers. The taste is good, the price point is good, and the story is fantastic.”

Earlier this year, Wong and Yang were running production two days a week with plans to expand.

“We have three production assistants who take care of all of our juicing and production,” said Wong. They have turned to organizations that provide job training and programs to place people who were previously deemed unemployable due to homelessness or other obstacles in jobs for some of their workers. They also have interns, i.e. friends, helping.

Lovegrove said the biggest hurdle now for MISFIT is to take the business to the next level.

“You can do almost anything on a small scale without a lot of money, but when you need a larger opportunity, that’s complicated. You need investors,” she said. “They have to find the volume to justify moving to that higher level of manufacturing.

“But a Whole Foods is not going to give them a contract until they can say we can fill your order. It’s a little bit of a chicken- and-egg thing. That’s kind of their focus now, working their way through that in-between stage quickly — getting enough distribution so that they can make that investment in capacity.”

With Wong graduating last year and Yang finishing her degree in May, they’re ready to take on that challenge. They’ve been talking to investors and looking ahead to the broader possibilities for MISFIT.

“We’re super passionate,” Wong said. “We are hoping we can prove it is a viable vehicle for social change.”

Said Yang, “I just felt like I wanted to make more of an impact in my work day to day.”

— Kathy Gibbons, contributing writer