Fugly Pickles is an enterprise created by second-year designers Eden Lew, Jon Lung, Ziyun Qi and Roya Ramezani aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing "perfectly edible" discarded food from landfills—which contribute 16% of U.S. methane emissions a year.
"People toss out food that doesn't 'look perfect'. In fact, people don't even pick it at the point of purchase. We knew that this 'ugly food' had huge potential, and looked towards pickling and preservation as ways of rescuing and extending its life."
As part of a Lifecycle and Stakeholder Management Theory business course, taught by Rebecca Silver and Jen van der Meer, team Fugly Pickles was initially interested in the California drought and the potential for related food shortages across the nation. During their research phase, they learned that billions of tons of food are wasted yearly, and that the rotting food in landfills contributes to a significant amount of yearly greenhouse gas emissions.
Further research revealed that much of this food waste is avoidable: there is a host of healthy fruits and vegetables being tossed out due to their aesthetic qualities. "People toss out food that doesn't 'look perfect'," argued Qi. "In fact, people don't even pick it at the point of purchase. We knew that this 'ugly food' had huge potential, and looked towards pickling and preservation as ways of rescuing and extending its life."
Interviews with farmers at New York's acclaimed Green Market—along with farm-to-table caterers, and food activists—bore out the day-to-day reality. A representative from Keith’s Organic Farms revealed that "any produce we have left over at the end of the day, we give to City Harvest—and that’s about $100-$200 worth. But the amount of food that’s still left on the farm is a lot. We try to eat as much as we can, and most of our compost is made up of edible food." He added, "pickling and preserving is a project on its own,” so the students took on the challenge of designing a business for pickling and preserving wasted food.
First the team did an audit of pickling and preserving techniques around the world, and then used a Business Model Canvas to lay out the very basics of the offering.
Next was sketching a systems map to identify the stakeholders and model the challenges in supply chain and distribution.
The team then did some intercept interviews with New York locals (their favorite were people waiting in line at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park—where that empire was begun!—with one woman declaring, “I don’t care how it looks, as long as it tastes good!”) With other positive reactions, they conducted further market research, surveying people on their willingness to eat “ugly food” and their affinity towards pickles. (People do love pickles.)
Fugly Pickles would have to begin with a gleaning service to collect the leftover produce from industrial organic farms. The team called up farmers to collect various prices that they would be willing to charge for their ugly fruits and vegetables.
Planning out the business was multi-tendrilled: Fugly Pickles would have to begin with a gleaning service to collect the leftover produce from industrial organic farms—the team called up farmers to collect various prices that they would be willing to charge for their ugly fruits and vegetables. Moving toward in-house pickling food preparation and distribution necessitated further research into permits, food preparation protocols, industrial kitchen locations and fees, machinery costs, storage, truck rentals, driver wages, advertising costs. Only then could the team get a comprehensive view of what such a business would entail and how any growth predictions could be made with reasonable assumptions. Many other key points were researched and combined into a business plan as well as business growth predictions.
Combining this business research with their climate change research, the team estimated the potential for Fugly Pickles to impact global warming by calculating the amount of greenhouse gas emissions saved from pickling the estimated amount of ugly fruits and vegetables Fugly Pickles could sell.
Finessing the brand came next: Both the brand identity and the actual "pickling recipes" were developed simultaneously in order to create realistic, fully-functioning prototypes for more advanced market research resulting in fully functioning prototypes, packaging and campaign concepts. By furthering the Ugly Foods movement with the brand Fugly Pickles, the team hopes to encourage more consumers to become aware of their own consumption and wastes, and to be open to eating ugly.