Full City spotlight: This Colorado company reduces food waste, feeds people…and makes a profit

FoodMaven is such a success that it’s planning to expand nationwide.


What if we could solve hunger, reduce waste and make money at the same time?


There’s an impressive Colorado-based food organization that is doing just that. FoodMaven has chapters in Colorado Springs and Dallas, and plans to expand nationwide in the next few years.


We’re showing off this program as part of our Full City Challenge, a collaboration between Billy Penn and the Economy League to jumpstart solutions to hunger by leveraging our region’s robust food economy.


Through Jan. 24, we’re accepting short proposals for initiatives, campaigns, social enterprises, technology platforms and other new collaborations that use food, culinary or agricultural-based solutions to address the underlying causes of hunger and poverty that affect too many residents.


If we like your idea, we’ll give you $5,000 to pilot it, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of strategic advice to help get a test off the ground.


There’s a lot of this kind of work already going on, both in Philly and around the country. Each week until the Full City application deadline, we’ll showcase a different innovative program — perhaps it’ll give you an idea you might submit to the challenge.


Last week, we highlighted the Seattle-based nonprofit FareStart, which offers job training programs in the food service industry.


Up next: FoodMaven.



FoodMaven is a Colorado-based, for-profit company with a multi-faceted mission: It aims to generate revenue for local farmers and ranchers, eliminate food waste and feed people who are experiencing hunger.

Similar programs exist locally — Philabundance does some food rescue. But FoodMaven is different, most strikingly because it rescues food and also manages to make a profit.



Its headquarters are in Colorado Springs — but FoodMaven recently expanded to Dallas and intends to open up programs in six more cities in 2019.



The program was founded in 2015 by CEO Patrick Bultema. At the time, he was the head of an entrepreneurship program at Colorado College. One of his students started a nonprofit food rescue at a local grocery store, saving and reselling perfectly good food that was set to be thrown away due to oversupply.

Bultema became invested in the idea. He wondered why — in a country where nearly 50 million people go hungry — we throw away so much food. Bultema set out to put that food to use.



To track down food waste, the organization starts right where it’s grown. FoodMaven is partnered with a handful of local farmers and ranchers — plus some grocery companies — which provide food that they wouldn’t have used otherwise. Oftentimes, it’s just because they had an oversupply.


Then, FoodMaven stores the food in a warehouse, selling it to restaurants via an online marketplace at a discounted price. The food it can’t sell — aka the ugly stuff — is donated to food insecurity nonprofits.


And if there’s stuff they won’t take, like moldy food, they’ll give it to animal rescues or zoos for the animals to eat. So far, the org has saved nearly 2 million pounds of food from being wasted, donating about 500,000 to hunger relief.


Though plenty of other orgs operate food rescues, FoodMaven is different. While reducing food waste and feeding people, this company actually generates a profit. It operates on a cost-sharing model, meaning the company gets all its food for free from farmers, and then it gives back a portion of its profits at the end. That keeps initial costs low and attracts big donors.



To make this program work in Philly, we’d need:


- Venture capitalists who would fund the program


- More farmers and grocery stores that would donate their food waste — and someone to organize them


- Restaurants that would be willing to sell the produce and share their profits


This article originally appeared on Billy Penn.