Buy one, give one: Mission-oriented start-up Glean taps into 'ugly produce' trend with novel vegetable 'flour' range

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Veg entrepreneurs with social mission transform ugly produce into value-added powders

Related tags Wheat

North Carolina-based start-up Glean is appealing to health-conscious shoppers and consumers on specialty diets (Paleo, gluten-free, keto) with a novel range of vegetable flours made from 'ugly' produce that doesn't meet retail specifications.

The brainchild of co-founders with a background in fresh produce - Will Kornegay, Kris Radford and Stacy Ham Thomas from veg and fruit grower and processor Ham Farms, and Laura Hearn, formerly of Nash Produce – Glean collects imperfect beets, pumpkins and sweet potatoes and processes them at Ham Farms’ subsidiary Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration​,​ where they are diced, dehydrated and milled into powders. 

For each one-pound bag sold (the flours are currently available via the liveglean website and on Amazon, plus a rapidly growing number of bricks and mortar stores), Glean donates a one-pound bag of veg/fruit powder - or in some cases a pound of fresh produce - to a local food bank, Kornegay told FoodNavigator-USA.

“At Ham Farms we have been able to utilize all of the produce that’s grown, but many smaller farmers in particular don’t have outlets for the produce that they can’t sell to the fresh or retail markets and it is just left to rot in the fields in many cases.

“But from the beginning,​" said Kornegay, "this wasn’t just about supporting local farmers and finding a home for fruits and vegetables that might otherwise be wasted, it was about creating a trusted brand of healthy and clean foods for consumers and giving back to those in need.”

Paleo, gluten-free trends

But do consumers know what to do with vegetable powders, or is this a super-niche market, even if consumers are attracted to the company’s social mission?

"It’s an education process,​" acknowledged Kornegay, who is also working on additional food and beverage products including new-to-the-world snacking concepts. 

However a growing number of chefs and consumers are experimenting with substituting some wheat flour in recipes with alternatives, whether it’s almond or coconut flour, or pumpkin flour; while health-conscious consumers are also adding ‘superfood’ powders such as beets to daily staples from smoothies and yogurt, to oatmeal, he said. 

“It’s early days, but we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think there was growth potential here. The target market is people keen on health and fitness but also people on specialty diets such as Whole30, Paleo or keto.”

He added: “100% vegetable flours are a new category, so there’s definitely an education piece, but we have been working with influencers, nutritionists and professional dietitians to get the message out there about how to use them and incorporate them into recipes.

"People are using them in stews, soups, and savory products as well as cookies, breads, muffins, hummus, pancakes and pizza bases. And if you add water back, you’ve basically got a vegetable puree.”

What's in a name?​  'Gleaning' refers to the practice of gathering leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been harvested, a biblical practice that became a legally enforced entitlement of the poor in some countries.

As very high temperatures can degrade the powders, it’s best not to cook products containing high quantities of the flours at more than 350 degrees Fahrenheit, he said. “It’s best to cook at a low heat for a little longer.”

While vegetable ‘flours’ represent a new category, this has actually worked in Glean's favor when it comes to getting visibility on amazon, he said: “If you type in anything remotely close to ‘pumpkin flour’ on amazon, Glean will most likely come up on the first page.”

Bricks and mortar retailers, meanwhile, are exploring a range of merchandising options for the vegetable flours and powders, from the baking ingredients category to food supplements and even the produce section, he said.

"Health food stores have shown a lot of interest in putting the powders by their vitamins and supplements."

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