Evan Lutz is the CEO of Hungry Harvest, a Maryland-based startup dedicated to reducing food waste through delivery and donations of fresh produce. Hungry Harvest sells surplus, “ugly” fruits and vegetables recovered from farmers and suppliers to feed diverse communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Because of their outside imperfections, billions of pounds of edible produce get wasted every year—a statistic the company and others like it around the world seek to change. The company recently appeared on an episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” where investor Robert Herjavec pledged $100,000 for a 10% stake.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Tell us about starting the company.
EVAN LUTZ: My whole life I’ve wanted to become a social entrepreneur and start a business that not just made money but also helped people and gave back to the community in the right way. In my senior year of college at the University of Maryland, I started working for an organization called Food Recovery Network. They take leftover dining hall food from college campuses around the country, using student volunteers that take the leftover dining hall food that normally gets thrown away at the end of the day, and drive it down to partner agencies in the area where it can get redistributed and not wasted. When I was working for Food Recovery Network, we started this pilot program called the Recovered Food CSA. We worked with one local supplier of surplus fruits and vegetables, to purchase those fruits and vegetables, sell them at five pounds for five bucks right in front of our Stamp Student Union. The first week we had about 10 students come up and buy from us—we had 50 bucks of revenue. We were thinking, “This is great! This is great for a class project.” The next weekend—$100 of revenue, 20 students come up. Then, 10 weeks later it just exploded: we had 400 to 500 people coming up to buy from us every single week. At that point, in May 2014, we turned that into Hungry Harvest, a for-profit, home delivery-based model.
Q. How did you get on “Shark Tank”?
A. I think it’s every entrepreneur’s dream to be on “Shark Tank.” I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of mine. A lot of people suggested it to me in 2014 and I said, “No, they don’t really want a social mission driven business on ‘Shark Tank’—that’s not really what their target business looks like.” But, then we were watching the season before and we realized there are so many mission-driven businesses now applying and actually getting on “Shark Tank,” it might make sense to do this.
Actually, the producers reached out to us last February 2015. They thought it was interesting—how we took ugly fruits and vegetables and actually made a profit on it.
The application process is nothing short of a nightmare. It’s a 50-page, handwritten application. You have to make a 5 to 10 minute video, and I’m not sure about a lot of other businesses out there but we’re not content-driven so we’re not really good with that stuff. One day we sat down in April, we said, “Screw it. Let’s just fill out the application. Let’s make the video.” We did that. We got to the next round. There was another 50 page handwritten application, another two minute video; got into the next round. And then early June in 2015, they gave us a call and said congratulations, you’re flying out to film on “Shark Tank.” It was an amazing time.
Q. How has Robert Herjavec helped your company grow?
A. We know that Robert is, one, an incredible businessman but, two, he has a really, really good heart. That’s what he is known for on Shark Tank. That’s what he is in person. I knew we would speak to his heart because of our story, of how we’re making a profit with a purpose. We don’t put profit before purpose—our mission is to fight food waste and fight hunger. Making a deal with Robert on Shark Tank was really ideal for us. It is exactly who we wanted to partner with and he’s provided so much value besides just the investment he’s provided.
We actually raised another round right after we closed the deal with Robert as well, of $500,000 and that’s really taken us to the next level. We’ve been able to expand to middle Virginia, we’ve been able to expand our product line to include organic and add-ons and have really, really great product features that add a lot of value to our customers. We’ve expanded to Philadelphia as well. Hopefully by the end of the year, the goal is to expand to a couple of more cities: New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Richmond. Ideally, we want to be able to ship our product out by the end of this year. We have about 3500 active customers right now and we’ve got another 10,000 actually on the waitlist, so around the country. All those customers are waiting for us to send them our product and so we’re working with a few different tests right now—I actually have 5 boxes of produce sitting in the backseat of my car, testing of a few different materials to see how well it keeps—just so we can try and ship that product out as soon as we can.