Compass Group USA and California Growers’ Hone in on Imperfect Produce
Compass Group's Imperfectly Delicious Produce (IDP) program, developed in partnership with subsidiary Bon Appetit Management Company, launched in 2014 to fight food and water waste by "rescuing" or purchasing imperfect fruits and vegetables from growers and distributors—produce that might have languished in fields or been sent to composting or a landfill simply for not meeting an artificial standard of attractiveness.
To date, 221,000 pounds of produce have been saved during the onboarding phase. It's estimated that every pound of vegetables saved keeps up to 20 gallons of water from being wasted. There was 4.4 million gallons of water saved before the program has even rolled out nationally. Currently, IDP is running strong in nine states with Chartwells, Eurest, Flik Independent Schools, FLIK, Morrison Community Living, Morrison Healthcare, Touchpoint, Wolfgang Puck Catering, and Bon Appetit.
In July, a group of Compass Group chefs arrived at Church Brothers Farms in California to learn more about vegetable harvesting and what happens to the perfect and imperfect produce in America's fields.
Acres of green spinach were waiting to be disked under (rotated back into the ground) because the first cut had already been completed. Traditionally a second cut is not done because the greens will be very slightly imperfect. What if those fields were allowed to grow and mature one more time? Wouldn't growing a second crop from the existing plants use less water and resources?
The answer from the grower: a resounding "Yes!" It would require only one-half the water needed to grow a 100 percent crop yield of beautiful, albeit slightly imperfect, vegetables that would previously have been tilled under.
The team also observed the romaine lettuce harvest, where pickers were pulling off the crisp outer leaves to form a perfectly sized head of romaine for market, then tossing the discarded leaves on the ground, effectively forming a salad bowl of greens left on the soil.
What about all these romaine leaves? Could we make a wonderful salad with such high quality lettuce? What would it take to save them? Growers calculate that getting 10 percent more yield out of each acre of romaine could help pay for the extra labor and take better advantage of all the resources that went into growing.
"Agriculture is the largest user of freshwater in the United States. Given California's historic drought, it is imperative that we embrace new, water-efficient ways to grow food in the state," explains JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate of Food & Agriculture Program’s Natural Resources Defense Council. "By bringing farmers and chefs together to identify new opportunities on the farm and in the kitchen, Compass Group is using food that would otherwise be lost. That translates to more food on our plates for every precious gallon of water used."
"Our family appreciates working with Compass Group and its IDP program. The program is innovative and helps educate chefs about this fantastic opportunity to help us as growers reduce food waste and the water we use to produce our fresh vegetables," says Steve Church, CEO of Church Brothers Produce.
Already, IDP is showing powerful results in California:
IDP and California grower-partners are rescuing enough produce for 140,000 people to reach the Daily Recommended Value of produce consumption for one year with only incremental water use.
IDP and grower-partners are saving enough California water for 2,960,000 peoples' use for a day
Cosmetically perfect produce is not essential for most uses in foodservice operations, since chefs slice, dice, and incorporate fruits and vegetables into great tasting dishes.
"The IDP program allows Compass Group chefs to find a home for everything that is good and edible. IDP makes sense for our business, works for the growers and is simply the right thing to do," adds Christine Seitz, vice president of culinary of Compass Group Business Excellence.