Circular Economy of Food Challenge SPECIAL MENTION

Agricycle Global

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Agricycle Global

Milwaukee, WI

Agricycle is dedicated to empowering vulnerable populations around the world by creating appropriate technologies, addressing food loss and building market-based solutions. We are a vertically integrated portfolio of ethically-sourced and upcycled consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands. Our three current brands are Jali Fruit Co, a fun-filled dried fruit snack; Tropical Ignition, sustainable charcoal made from coconut and palm kernel; and What the Fruit, a pantry of gluten-free, nutritious fruit flours.

About Agricycle

Agricycle began as a college student project in 2015 and grew into a global social enterprise by 2018. Our Founder, Josh, began designing passive solar dehydrators to reduce food loss in rural communities in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. However, the dried fruits struggled to sell in local markets and the farmers lacked the resources to export, brand, market and sell internationally. The concept soon evolved to address a more prescient problem: global economic opportunity. By iterating the technology and community-level partnerships, Agricycle became a vertically-integrated portfolio of ethically-sourced and upcycled brands. Agricycle has grown in size and scope to support over 35,000 smallholder farmers with over 20 global employees.

Every year 2.8 trillion pounds of food is wasted globally. In Sub-Saharan Africa, up to 95 percent is due to food loss – the phenomenon when food produced never reaches the market. Food loss is exacerbated by lack of preservation technology and lack of market access. And that’s the problem Agricycle is  solving. Together as an integrated global team, they work with over 35,000 smallholder farmers around the world providing on-the-job skills training, access to good education and healthcare and paying up to 7 times the average daily wage. Agricycle works together to turn fruit and its byproducts that would otherwise have gone to waste into sustainable products:

Jali Fruit Co

A  family of sun-dried, organic fruit that is  wild harvested from ancestral trees without any preservatives or added sugars. Jali Fruit is sun dried using passive-solar dehydrators that don’t use any electricity and are easy to use and easy to clean. Each bag is fully traceable from tree to table through their Find my Farm program. It includes stories of the women who dried the fruit, the farmers who grew it and the tree it came from.

Tropicoal Ignition

A better-for-everyone charcoal that burns hotter and lasts longer helps end deforestation. By using coconut shells and palm kernels, the hottest burning food ingredients, we make grilling briquettes that come in fully recycled cardboard boxes with handles!

What the Fruit Flours

Our pantry of nutrient-dense, organic flours made out of 100 percent fruit and nothing else. They’re gluten free and great for healthy baking. We’ve got breadfruit flour, coffee flour, mango flour and more. By upcycling byproducts of excess fruit, Agricycle provides even more opportunity for cooperative members to gain additional income and access to wide markets.

Something we identified early on was market linkage as imperative to sustainable economic development. Many previous solutions focused on providing technology, citing a market would naturally follow. By ensuring a market, we are able to provide long-term partnerships with farmers as well as effectively provide additional income. We are currently selling through e-commerce and retail in the US, and are exploring opportunities to expand in East African markets as well as European markets.

The Agricycle Q&A

How do circular economy of food principles help social entrepreneurs like Agricycle CEO Josh Shefner grow their businesses and meet their mandate?

Circular economy of food, to us, means being thoughtful about the entire process of our food system and supply network. From diverting food waste to creating multiple upcycled products to educating consumers about our process to investing in sustainable packaging, Agricycle is dedicated to empowering communities through creating appropriate technology, eliminating natural food loss and creating market-based solutions. 

I was first introduced to the circular economy through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Thought for Food deepened my understanding of the entire process. Providing resources such as Ethan from How Good’s webinar allowed me to pause and look critically at our own circular economy, identifying strengths and areas for improvement through our processes from start to finish. It has sparked thoughtful conversations on our team, and I am excited to learn more!

Each year, 2.8 trillion pounds of food goes to waste. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 95 percent of food waste is due to food loss, a gap between producers and markets. Lack of access to preservation technology and markets exacerbates this challenge. Agricycle houses a portfolio of brands using a vertically-integrated supply chain from tree to shelf to empower rural smallholder farmers and connect farmers to international markets. 

In rural areas, the agriculture sector employs up to 70 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa. Smallholder farmers lose up to 60 percent of their profits to the middlemen in supply chains. Agricycle cuts out the middleman and provides direct trade to smallholder farmers in East Africa, West Africa and the Caribbean. Direct trade practices are central to our business model. We buy products from cooperatives to transport and sell in the US, ensuring competitive prices go directly to cooperative members and removing prolonged waiting periods for products to be sold to consumers. Farmers not only receive income from their fresh fruit in local markets, but also additional income through selling dried fruit to Agricycle. 

Designing preservation technology appropriate to the needs and resources of our farmers is imperative. Our passive solar food dehydrators use zero-electricity powered by the heat of the sun and airflow, allowing communities with limited access to electricity dry fruits, vegetables, fish and insects. 

All of our products can be made from byproducts of each other. For example, a mango that would otherwise go to waste can be used for two current products: Jali Fruit Co and What the Fruit. We utilize the flesh to dry and use the pit and skin to mill into naturally gluten-free fruit flour. Another abundant product, coconut, can be dried, milled and carbonized to create Jali Fruit Co, What the Fruit coconut flour and Tropicoal Ignition coconut charcoal. By utilizing the whole fruit we are able to eliminate more waste as well as provide more additional income to cooperative members.

Our team exemplifies adaptability and resourcefulness: like true social entrepreneurs, we are OK with shifting when necessary and being innovative with our approaches. We may be in the midst of our greatest challenge, and we are moving forward with as much passion and energy as ever. Due to COVID-19, we quickly shifted our immediate focuses from additional brand launching to increasing production and sales of Jali Fruit Co. We continue to work on additional brands, and are dedicated to continue innovating and ideating ways to fulfill our business and impact model. Our challenges have shown we are capable of being flexible while remaining steadfast. 

Additional challenges we face center on ongoing climate realities and political uncertainty in regions we work. In Kenya, rainy seasons are usually predictable and wrapped up by early December. In 2020, heavy rainfall has occurred monthly. In Haiti, political distress makes transportation and exporting more complicated. With both scenarios, our model mitigates the challenges by sourcing throughout a large network of farmers and cooperatives. By having this wide range network, we work with different seasons and regions to ensure production. Further, we continue to put collaboration and partnerships at the forefront to support long-term empowerment of communities to address climate reality and overcome challenges.

Yes! Connecting consumers and farmers is central to our story. Jali Fruit Co features “Find My Farm” system where every package has a QR code you can scan and it immediately directs you to a story of which cooperative the fruit came from, history of the ancestral harvest, cultural learnings from the region and the impact of our product. 

Beyond the Find My Farm program, we share our story through Jali Fruit Co, social media and our brand ambassadors. Connecting consumers with the women producing their food is fundamental to our story, and we want them to engage with their food in a new way. 

Most importantly, our community development officers work directly with cooperative members to provide ongoing support with food safety, financial literacy and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training. Building relationships with cooperatives allows us to have long-term impact and share the extent of our circular economy with the folks who make our products.

Our model is based on food loss, a gap between producers and markets. Smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are looking to sell up to 90 percent of their crop when they fail to sell in local markets. Because of this, we source our products from farmers and cooperatives that have an overabundance of produce, allowing us to source ingredients that would otherwise rot and emit harmful methane into our atmosphere. We are currently focused on mangoes, pineapple, jackfruit, coconut, papaya and banana, and we listen to communities regarding additional food loss they experience.

Our passive solar dehydrators solve several challenges: they are appropriately-designed, meaning they have the end-user in mind; they require zero electricity, using only natural sun and airflow; and they are easy-to-use, easy-to-clean and sleek in design, allowing cooperative members to wash them daily and take apart with ease. The new design of our passive solar dehydrators support the circular economy because they do not require electricity, they are food-safe and they can be used to dry a variety of excess products to transform waste into opportunity. 

As we continue to build out new brands and product lines, building appropriate technology that supports the circular economy principles will require ongoing financial resources and strategic partnerships. Our co-founder and portfolio manager, Claire Friona, designed our current passive solar dehydrators and she is dedicated to solving complex problems with simple, accessible technology.

Every decision we make as a business complements our impact model. Our business and impact model are interwoven, and we make every decision with each in mind. With that, packaging decisions are not only essential for our business and branding, but also for our environmental impact. Tropicoal Ignition, our coconut charcoal brand, is packaged from 100 percent recycled product and is recyclable. We partner with a local printing company to support our packaging needs, and they have been central to our Tropicoal Ignition packaging. 

The same thought and intentionality goes into our Jali Fruit Co packages. Our biggest barrier with our Jali Fruit Co packaging is finding and securing cost-friendly recyclable packaging. We are seeking partnerships and financial resources to increase our access to such sustainable packaging for Jali Fruit Co.

Yes, buyers are willing to pay for our delicious, hand-crafted products! That’s (one of) the most exciting parts: seeing people scan the QR code, smiling as they learn the story, being in awe of our packaging (shout out to our brilliant Chief Branding Officer, Jen Kuhn), purchasing our products and sharing it to our social media. We are currently selling primarily through e-commerce and direct store retail. Through Jali Fruit Co’s website, you can build your own box and become a subscriber to get a variety of dried fruit. 

In 2020, we began selling our passive solar dehydrators that are manufactured in Wisconsin. We sell dehydrators to cooperatives, and our direct pay structure ensures they will be paid back within one season. Providing the ability to generate wealth through owning their own dehydrators builds credit, adds assets and creates long-term savings. Agricycle partners with local financial institutions and NGOs to ensure our dehydrators are accessible and affordable.

At Agricycle, we are constantly innovating and ideating. We currently have three brands: Jali Fruit Co, a fun-filled dried fruit snack; Tropical Ignition, sustainable charcoal made from coconut and palm kernel; and What the Fruit, a pantry of gluten-free, nutritious fruit flours. We are excited to expand our current brands while also developing new ones. We are researching and developing ideas to make nutritional powders from sources such as fruits, vegetables and insects; beauty products from natural oils; wines from fruit and honey; and natural cleaning products. Those are just some of the ideas spurring from our “Creative Mornings” brainstorm!

We envision Agricycle not only as a household name for our trusted, high-quality products, but also for our leadership at a global level. From empowering rural farmers to promoting leadership and growth in our company, we are dedicated to people who drive this world. We envision a world where Agricycle is thought of immediately when local governments are discussing development plans; a great example of our dream is for governments to build stronger infrastructure because they see the value of Agricycle already being in those ‘hard-to-reach’ rural areas. Bringing roads and resources to rural communities from multiple stakeholders would be amazing! In short, success is a global movement with Agricycle leading by example.

Team Members

Josh Shefner

CEO and Founder

Jacob Foss

COO

Ashlie Benson

Director of Impact