Yale on Purpose-Driven Startups: Hungry Harvest—No Food Waste, No Hunger

FacebookTwitterLinkedIn

Hungry Harvest

In brandchannel’s new series with Yale University, a team of MBA students considers how Hungry Harvest can grow its business through focused targeting. Their case study below reflects the views of the authors and not brandchannel or Interbrand.

Many Americans are unaware of the problem of food waste in the country: 40% of produce grown in the US never goes to market and 6 billion pounds are wasted each year. More are aware of issues related to hunger: 50 million Americans are currently food-insecure.

Evan Lutz, the founder and CEO of Hungry Harvest, saw an opportunity where these challenges overlapped. Hungry Harvest saves produce with cosmetic imperfections that cannot be sold in most grocery stores. At first blush, its model is similar to a community-supported agriculture program, but Hungry Harvest goes a step further by donating produce to free farmers’ markets and community partners that serve food‐insecure families.

As a business model, Hungry Harvest makes perfect sense: It buys produce that would otherwise go unsold from farmers “at pennies on the dollar,” delivers it to customers seeking reasonably priced produce and helps address issues of hunger. The startup has seen impressive margins so far and will soon expand to New York City from Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

Hungry Harvest

MARKETING STRATEGY

Product

  • Hungry Harvest offers three different types of fresh bag produce: recovered harvests, organic harvests or all-fruit There are three sizes to choose from: mini Harvest is designed for 1 to 2 people, the full harvest is enough for a family of 3 to 4 and the super harvest is ideal for vegetarians.

Price:

  • The low cost of acquiring the ugly produce allows Hungry Harvest to sell product at a 40% margin, while saving customers 20% to 30% compared to more aesthetically-pleasing fruits.
  • Hungry Harvest’s prices range from $15 for the recovered mini harvest to $55 for the organic super.

Place:

  • Hungry Harvest’s products are available in number of areas on the East Coast: Northern Jersey, Pittsburgh and Richmond.
  • The company offers a subscription-based home delivery service with free shipping.

Promotion:

The company’s promotional strategy has been has been effective in making customers aware of the dual mission of reducing hunger and providing a solution to unnecessary food waste. Consequently customers buy into the product and engage with the social cause. Promotional efforts have spanned different channels, including:

  • Social media and online newsletter: Hungry Harvest is active on a number of social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and It also produces a weekly newsletter that is distributed to approximately 7,000 users. There are clear efforts to engage with followers. For example, on Facebook, Hungry Harvest held a competition where customers were encouraged to submit pictures of the “funkiest” carrots in their box.
  • Business partnerships: Hungry Harvest has set up “weekly add‐ons” to its boxes, allowing users to purchase products that also come “with a ” These partnerships build the positive image that the company is focused on social impact and engages with like-minded organizations.
  • Community events: The company hosts events, such as Free Farmers’ Markets, where it gives away anywhere from 5 pounds to 10,000 pounds of These events demonstrate Hungry Harvest’s commitment to giving back to the communities in which it operates and is also a way to create relationships in those communities—while deterring potential competition.
  • PR efforts and Shark Tank: In January 2016, CEO Evan Lutz was featured on an episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, pitching Hungry Harvest’s goal “to sell produce with a ” This mission clearly resonated with the audience. In just 60 hours following the episode’s airing, Hungry Harvest had attracted 700 sign-ups for delivery. The company’s website saw an increase of daily unique visitors from 150 to 3,000. Moreover, there was press coverage leading up and following the show, including prominent news platforms such as New York Magazine. Facebook fans increased from 2,700 to 8,500. It is clear that emphasis on its social mission through national television resonated with viewers and led to a promotional success.

Hungry Harvest defines its target segments as follows:

  • Recent graduates, particularly those with advanced degrees
  • Singles in their late 20s to early 30s
  • Recently-married couples with one or no children
  • Empty-nesters who have the resources to support a good

Three of the four target groups can be classified as millennials—a segment that generally engages with online content and channels. Hence, existing product placement, promotional efforts and low prices are likely to resonate with those target segments.

Moreover, this younger generation is drawn to the company through their desire to support a social good. There is also potential to appeal to more educated professionals who are interested in healthy lifestyles, such as doctors and nutritionists, and are likely to buy into the value proposition.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In the near-term:

  • Emphasize social impact messaging: Display social mission prominently, demonstrate a personal connection to charities through images and play up branded social program like One For One.
  • Connect customers to educational resources: Provide navigation bar at top of the page, list examples and benefits of recovered harvests, add greater detail on meal donation program and offer customer access to a searchable database of recipes.

In the long-term:

  • Management of online communities: Hungry Harvest is most popular among millennials, website should integrate social media platforms, have consistent use of hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Allow customers greater control over product: Nearly half of customers desire some degree of customizability, customers should be able to specify willingness to try unusual produce, expansion of exclusion list.

LESSONS FOR LARGE COMPANIES

Hungry Harvest is a startup that can teach larger companies such as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s or even Walmart a lot about mission and marketing. Although Hungry Harvest is still trying to navigate its product market fit, it large companies could learn five lessons related to brand identity, unused assets, millennial motivations, local partnerships, and media capitalization from Hungry Harvest:

  • First, large companies need to weave a social mission into their brand The Hungry Harvest brand has become synonymous with its dual social mission of reducing food waste and reducing hunger. While this may be tough for an established brand such as Walmart, large companies can always spin off sub-brands that are inherently tied to a social mission.
  • Second, established organizations need to create value out of their unused Perhaps the greatest feat Hungry Harvest achieved was simply recognizing that all of the cosmetically unfit fruits and vegetables in America are essentially unused assets. Then, the company figured out a way to create value out of these assets. Similarly, big companies need to identify unused assets and appropriately capitalize on them.
  • Third, big organizations should keep in mind that millennials care about social causes and are willing to pay a premium to support companies that have social It’s important not to focus too narrowly on the baby boomer demographic, especially as the buying power of the millennial demographic continues to increase.
  • Fourth, large companies need to establish local partnerships with social impact One of the reasons Hungry Harvest is successful is that it creates local partnerships with farmers and farmers’ markets in its area. Its consumers are then willing to support farmers and alleviating hunger at the local level. Because Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Walmart are too large to create local partnerships from their corporate headquarters, they may need to establish local “social mission managers” in each geographic region to develop and maintain local partnerships.
  • Fifth, established companies need to capitalize on media attention to further their mission and increase Much of Hungry Harvest’s success has been due to its ability to get the word out via news outlets and network television. Although large companies can’t appear on Shark Tank, they can still harness the power of the media in an impactful way when starting a new mission-driven brand, initiative or product line. In addition, getting free media attention for a mission-driven brand that a large company is launching is much easier than attempting to get media attention for its traditional products that fail to support a social cause.

Hungry Harvest


By Maria Amaral, Erik Connelly, Hedy Man, Shaan Patel, Shaun Takao, Alissa Thuotte in partnership with Professor Kosuke Uetake of the Yale School of Management, Yale Center for Business and the Environment and Yale Center for Customer Insights.

FacebookTwitterLinkedIn