Sometimes, a story crosses our path here at Plenty that we cannot wait to share, and this is one such story: LOOP Juice is a Montreal-based company that his helping to divert fruit and vegetable waste from the landfill by turning it into cold-pressed juice. Brilliant! The residual pulp from juicing is then given to a company that makes dog treats out of it. Even more brilliant! It’s a circular economy business model where everybody wins.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), up to 1/3 of the food produced around the world is lost or wasted, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tonnes per year. Food is lost at all stages of the food chain: agriculture, harvesting, processing, distribution, sale, and consumption. There are many causes of this waste: storage, transportation, management issues and aesthetic criteria such as produce shape, colour and size.
LOOP Juice expects to save 525 tonnes of fruits and veggies from going to landfill, averting 419 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and 329 million litres of water. Because dog treats are made from residual pulp, LOOP averts waste at the beginning and the end of their production cycle. Not only does this business model benefit the environment, it also increases accessibility to cold-pressed juices. Since each bottle is packed with over 1.5 kg of fruits and veggies, cold-pressed juices can be pricey. LOOP offers its juices at $4.95 per 355 ml bottle, almost half of the current market price.
For this project, LOOP partnered up with Courchesne Larose, a major Canadian fruit and vegetables distributor that is forced to reject more than 6,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables per year (16 tonnes per day!). The fruits and vegetables, though still very good for consumption and ripe for great juicing, are victims of the speculation in the industry. Because the distribution cycle can take up to two or three weeks, produce that will be ripe in three or four days won’t last long enough to reach consumers’ refrigerators. Courchesne Larose donates more than 1350 tonnes of fruit and vegetables to food banks every year, but these organisations can’t take all the produce that is available. This is why the balance goes to landfills.
LOOP started its rescue mission in Montreal less than a year ago. The juices are already available in more than 400 stores across the province of Quebec, and they’re now available in Toronto.
We had a chance to ask Julie Poitras-Saulnier, President and Cofounder at LOOP Juice, some questions about this brilliant and tasty solution to food waste.
PLENTY: Commercial food waste is one of my biggest pet peeves. I have followed with great interest stories in the news of grocery stores in France offering imperfect fruits and vegetables at a discount, and of single ripe bananas being given away with a cheeky sign “Take me. I’m single.” What was your inspiration for starting LOOP? What triggered you to move into action to end food waste?
JULIE: Frédéric Monette has been working all his life at Courchesne Larose, a fruit and vegetable distributor and importer owned by his family from generation to generation. He was really concerned about food waste and was looking for a solution. The company tried to reduce the amount of produce they would throw away for years, but the reality of the industry made it impossible for them to lose less than 16 tons per day. He decided to find another solution: transform this produce into juices. To help him, he contacted David Côté who was the cofounder of a raw food chain in Quebec called Crudessence, as well as RISE Kombucha. Working in a restaurant for years, David was also a witness to food waste and wanted to take action. Both too busy to start a company, David contacted me to be part of the project. I was working as a Sustainability Specialist in the food industry, and I was really concerned about the environmental impact of food waste. I was already super interested in circular economy and thought that would be an amazing way to concretely apply that business model as long as our pulp would also be reused. So I quit my job and jumped in the loop!
PLENTY: I am so excited to learn about this buying option for cold-pressed juices. It’s such a sensible solution to food waste! What has been the response from your customers?
JULIE: The response has been very good, better than we expected. When we started a year ago, we were worried that consumers may not really understand what we were doing, and would think the produce we use is in a bad shape. Food companies always say they use the highest premium quality of ingredients, even when it’s not really the case, and we were coming with a completely different message, saying, “Use rejected fruits and vegetables. ” However, as soon as we launched, we realized consumers are more and more aware of food waste and the challenges in the industry. By choosing our juices, they felt they were part of the solution! I think consumers were also happy to see that it was a solution coming from the industry, and not again asking just consumers to do their part. They were also happy to find our juices to be very tasty and less expensive than other cold-pressed juices.
PLENTY: What has the response to LOOP been from the people who grow the food? Are they more optimistic about being able to sell imperfect food in a retail market, or is the foreseeable future still wholesale for imperfect fruits and vegetables in Canada?
JULIE: When we started, we didn’t work directly with producers or farmers. We were only taking rejected fruit and vegetables from Courchesne Larose. Some of these products are “ugly produce,” but most are just victims of speculation. When fruit and vegetable are about to be ripe, they’re perfect for consumption, but they can’t be sold as they would not survive the whole distribution cycle, which takes about 2 weeks. When the word spread that LOOP was rescuing rejected produce, producers and farmers started to contact us to sell their imperfect fruit and vegetables. For them, it was a way to give value to something that was considered waste. We partner up with some of them to give a second life to their misfits. They are definitively optimistic that we’re inspiring a new way of doing business, and that may help them find a way to reuse this produce. On another note, the movement of selling imperfect fruit and vegetables at a discount in France was not a huge success, as consumers didn’t really buy the produce. The difference with Loop is that we transform the produce into a whole new product, so people don’t see the “imperfect” part that bothers them.
PLENTY: If you are having to use ripe or nearly ripe produce quickly, that must put pressure on your own production calendar. What are some of the production challenges you face?
JULIE: Since we started with a co-packer, that was a real issue, as the co-packer would only have time to press our juices during a specific time of the week. To solve that issue, we are building our own factory within the fruit and vegetable distributor’s warehouse that is going to be ready in mid-October. With the factory, we will have direct access to the produce, and we will be able to rescue way more fruits and veggies.
PLENTY: Does the availability of imperfect fruits and vegetables change with the season? How does this affect your own ability to produce your own complete line of juices? Is the line seasonal?
JULIE: Yes the availability definitively changes every month. However, all of our recipes have been developed based on waste data from Courchesne Larose. As crazy as it may sound, they know what they’re going to have to throw away every year! We only chose produce that we knew we would have available in a sufficient amount all year long. However, since there is produce that we have in huge quantities for a few months only, we are also working on a seasonal line of juices that will be available online.
PLENTY: You not only divert food from the landfill, you also repurpose the pulp that’s left from juicing to make dog treats. Brilliant! What is next? Are there other plans in the works? Other partnerships?
JULIE: So many other projects to come! Regarding the pulp, we are developing a partnership with a veggie burger patties supplier to reuse our High Achiever pulp, as it is the only one we can’t use for dog treats (because it contains grapes, and dogs can’t eat grapes). We are also developing relationships with microbreweries to reuse our citrus peel to flavour beers. Regarding LOOP products, we don’t want to be just a juice company; we want to be a circular economy company that solves food waste. As part of that positioning, we are working on many other products (not only juices) always with the idea of diverting food from landfill. We are working on a new line of sparkling waster, flavoured with essential oil hydrolat, also known as floral waters, a by-product from the distillation process.
PLENTY: What is the best part of your job? What gives you the most satisfaction?
JULIE: Two things: first, seeing the pallets of fruits and vegetables that are diverted from landfill every week. That’s the best satisfaction. Second, seeing a consumer purchasing our juices in a store. I just want to give them a big hug!
Julie very kindly dropped off some samples of LOOP while she was in Toronto. I can attest to their deliciousness! Here’s where to find some. Cheers!