Woolworths-backed startup helps growers find buyers for excess fresh produce

Refresh:Food, a new digital marketplace designed to connect growers with excess fruit and vegetables to new networks of potential buyers, has officially launched.

The B2B marketplace is accessible via the Refresh:Food smartphone app, and has been designed to make the exchange of produce as simple and transparent as possible.

The startup has been launched with the ambition to help reduce food waste in the supply chain by creating an additional channel for farmers to achieve a commercial return for more of their produce.

Refresh:Food is a profit-for-purpose company, meaning any profit generated is invested into initiatives that help reduce food waste or hunger, such as supporting the work of charities like Foodbank, OzHarvest and Fareshare.

The app allows growers to list excess produce - which may be a result of bumper crops, weather damage or imperfections - on the digital marketplace.

Produce buyers such as fruit and vegetable processors, packaged food manufacturers, small grocers, meal kit and produce box companies, hospitality and food service providers can utilise the app to find savings on produce that may have minor imperfections, take advantage of seasonal abundance and access new supply streams when their regular supply is disrupted.

When a buyer is ready to make a purchase, the payment is securely managed through the app, with statements and invoices automatically generated. Buyers have the option to organise their own transport to collect and deliver their produce, request a quote for Refresh:Food to handle logistics or have the produce delivered to a central ‘hub’ location for their collection.

Growers set the price, upload a photo of the produce and document key details including harvest date, best before date, whether it is washed or any stickers have been applied, quality notes like damage and defects, and their relevant certifications (eg. HARPS, Freshcare).

Managing director of Refresh:Food, Chris Cramond said the motivation behind the marketplace was to reduce on-farm food waste by giving growers another avenue to sell excess produce. 

“It’s sustainability with commercial purpose. We want to help broaden growers’ network of potential buyers to tap into demand that they wouldn’t otherwise have visibility of,” said Cramond.

“Farmers obviously never want to see the food they grow ploughed back into the ground, and Refresh:Food is about creating another channel that they can turn to at a moment’s notice to find the right buyers for different grades of produce.

“We’ve had great feedback from our test users. It’s only early days, and we’re expecting to see more buyers and sellers come onboard in the next few months which will help fuel our marketplace supply and demand.”

Victorian grower Flavorite has been part of the initial test group for Refresh:Food and conducted 11 transactions on the app, selling truss tomatoes, saucing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and eggplant.

Flavorite chief marketing officer Sam Kisvarda said Refresh:Food has helped the company move more surplus volume and generate revenue from it.

We already have really established sales channels - we supply to supermarkets and greengrocers around Australia and to the Melbourne wholesale markets. However, when it comes to cutting our food waste, every little bit helps, and Refresh:Food has allowed us to diversify our markets for lower-grade produce,” said Kisvarda.

“The app is very user-friendly and the Refresh:Food team has welcomed feedback to continue improving it and help form a closer connection between buyers and sellers.

“It’s given Flavorite the ability to connect with buyers we mightn’t have considered previously and improved the value of what would have otherwise been unsought produce.”

VegPro4 is a fresh-cut vegetable supplier based in Boonah, Queensland whose customers are food manufacturers and food service businesses. It purchases a wide range of vegetables, and general manager Sally Brent said the company is often on the lookout for seasonal specials to offer its customers additional value.

“The Refresh:Food app can help us spot those one-off excess produce opportunities, and it has the potential to be a really handy resource when our regular supply is interrupted,” said Brent.

“You can see the quality of produce from the listing details, and we’re always happy to take veggies with minor imperfections because we’ll be processing them anyway - the freshness and taste is what matters most.”

The startup is backed by Woolworths Group and Boston Consulting Group – whose BCG X division worked with Woolworths Group to co-develop the strategy, stand up the business and build the technology behind the platform. The two companies were driven to create a new channel to help reduce food waste and food insecurity in Australia. Refresh:Food operates as an independent stand-alone business.

An additional feature of the app is the ability to donate produce to a hunger relief charity, should there be no relevant buyers for it at the time. To save produce going to waste, growers can list it on the app as a donation so that charities only need to cover the cost of transportation.

OzHarvest is one of the charities testing the app to help boost food rescue volume in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.