Misfit Juicery was built on the premise of combatting food waste by using oddly shaped, bruised or blemished produce in cold-pressed juices. But it’s not a juice company — at least that’s how co-founders Ann Yang and Phil Wong see it.
Instead, Yang and Wong, who launched the company while enrolled at Georgetown University, view Misfit as participating in “the ugly fruit and vegetable movement.” Their mission: altering a food system in which 6 billion pounds of fresh, yet imperfect, produce goes unsold or unharvested every year.
“We don’t see ourselves as a cold-pressed juice company,” Wong said in an interview with BevNET. “We see ourselves as a company fighting food waste, and the vehicle for that is cold-pressed juice.”
The concept of repurposing “ugly” or discarded produce as a way to cut down on food waste is growing among food and beverage companies and employed by a handful of juice brands. WTRMLN WTR, a maker of high pressure processed watermelon juices, buys sunburned or scarred watermelons that farmers had typically discarded or tilled into the ground. Muse is another cold pressed juice brand that uses misshapen and cosmetically flawed fruits and vegetables.
Yang and Wong’s altruistic vision got off the ground in 2015 following triumphs in two startup brand pitch competitions, one of which yielded $6,000 in seed funding. They used the money, along with “some borrowed juicers and the goodwill of friends,” to launch Misfit.
The company focuses its sourcing efforts on the “tremendous level of waste” for fresh produce, Wong said, ranging from dented apples to edible food scraps, such as the tops and trimmings from vegetables packaged for retail. Misfit also flash freezes some seasonal fruits, like strawberries, for use in its juices. The produce comes from local farms in the Washington D.C. area as well as some distributors, including Baldor Specialty Foods, whose innovative SparCs (scraps spelled backward) Program is a key source of ingredients for Misfit.
The juices are made at a shared production facility called Mess Hall, which describes itself as a culinary incubator that supports “up-and-coming food entrepreneurs by providing commercial kitchens, combined with institutional knowledge.” They are high pressure processed at a separate facility in Maryland. Misfit also has office space at Halcyon, a non-profit incubator for social entrepreneurs.
Misfit’s five juice blends contain 70-80 percent “ugly” and surplus produce. While the company is working to increase that percentage, some of the ingredients, like ginger and lemons, require traditional sourcing, Wong said. He noted that Misfit has proprietary quality assurance and quality control protocols, describing them as “a lot more forgiving than what your typical consumer at the supermarket thinks of” ugly produce.
“[Consumers] have such a narrow conception of the fruits and veggies that are fit for our purchase and consumption that is totally divorced from the actual value,” he said. “Likewise, retailers have standards, whether it be in terms of size, shape or color, that also don’t reflect the value of the produce.”
Although Misfit does not currently repurpose the fruit and vegetable pulp that is a by-product of cold-pressed juicing, Wong said the company is planning “to make good use of it” with the launch of new formulations in the coming months. For now, it’s used for compost and sent to other food and beverage companies that incorporate pulp into their products.
Misfit uses a combination of self-distribution and partnership with local wholesalers, including Baldor, to deliver its juices, which retail for $6 for a 12 oz. bottle, to a number of small and independent retailers primarily located in Washington D.C. The company is branching out of the region and recently added its first account in New York City, landing placement at specialty foods mecca Eataly.
As Misfit expands its distribution footprint, it will continue to focus marketing efforts on building awareness about food waste and how the brand is contributing to a solution; it’s been a key point of differentiation for Misfit in the cold-pressed juice set and a primary driver of sales.
“We’re a brand that’s still in its infancy,” Wong said. “We need to make sure that message is consistent and that we’re continuing to educate consumers on the topic of food waste and on what the Misfit brand really means. A lot of our success thus far has been around that brand message.”