Meet Our Team
“Even in relatively equal societies, welfare can be increased without increase in consumption by consuming differently, rather than consuming more.”
Hi, our names are Anya Ranganathan and Courtney Bell, and we founded Ungraded Produce from the desks of our internships the summer after our sophomore year at Duke. We love to tell people our launch story because neither of us woke up that life-changing summer morning with any intention to start a business.
During the Summer of 2015, we were working in Durham and Detroit, where we both began to notice that the demand for produce in both cities’ food insecure neighborhoods far exceeded the supply. Fresh fruits and vegetables are seldom offered at the fast food chains and convenience stores that dominate these food desert landscapes, and when available, are more expensive than processed food alternatives. As college students, we were familiar with these problems–on-campus produce was overpriced, scarce, and low quality, and students often lacked the time or means of transportation to go to the supermarket. Having watched these problems unfold across different communities, we were inspired to make fresh produce affordable and accessible to all.
How were we going to achieve this lofty goal? By sourcing ugly produce: fruits and vegetables that are atypically sized, shaped, or colored, but are otherwise just as tasty and nutritious as their ‘perfect’ counterparts. While ugly produce has become quite trendy in the culinary sphere, few people have worked to address the less glamorous side of uglies–food waste. Supermarkets often reject ugly produce because of its appearance, so it tends to get left in the field or diverted to landfills, where it rots and expels methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. We wanted to create incentives for this delicious produce to get picked instead of going to waste! Sourcing ugly produce that would ordinarily go to waste allows us to sell it for a discount, and we ultimately found that this method helps us fight food waste, support local farms, and provide our community with an affordable and convenient source of fresh produce.
Despite not being in the same room, state, or (for a semester) the same country for seven months, we continued to develop our idea. Turning this idea into a reality, however, was more complicated. It took us a year to secure the resources needed to pilot Ungraded, and we didn’t have a single farm or customer on board until weeks before the launch!
But nevertheless, we kicked off our trial period if September 2016, delivering 10 lb bags of ugly produce to 15 subscribers every other week out of the trunk of Courtney’s car. Fast forward to eight months after that first delivery, and we now have over 100 subscribers in the Durham-Raleigh-Chapel Hill area receiving one of our seven fruit and vegetable boxes.
With support from so many peers and mentors in the food and entrepreneurial communities, two close friends were able to realize their goal of rescuing high quality produce from going to waste by bridging ties throughout the Triangle farm-to-consumer pipeline. We are constantly reminded that the simplest solutions can make the biggest difference. Building relationships with farmers and hearing subscribers describe how our service has revolutionized their grocery shopping and eating experiences means the world to us. We are truly humbled by all of the support we receive, and are committed to increasing access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
40% of food goes uneaten in the United States. This food creates millions of tons of landfill waste, which breaks down to emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Ungraded aims to reverse the tendency of growing more food to feed more people, thereby reducing the environmental consequences of industrial farming and food waste.
Affordable and Accessible
Americans are buying fewer fruits and vegetables than they want to consume to cut costs. In the Triangle, Durham residents and Duke students identify high cost and the inconvenience of traveling to markets as the prime barriers to consuming more produce.
To address these barriers, we price our products 30% cheaper than grocery store comparables. Additionally, our online order form and home-delivery service presents a convenient way for customers to access fresh produce.
In Durham county, 52,000 people, 20% of the population, are food insecure – much higher than the national average of one in every six people.
By reducing costs and delivering to subscribers’ doorsteps, Ungraded wants to play a role in addressing food accessibility-related issues in the Triangle. However, we hope to take this one step further by providing customers with the option to sponsor a family in need.