Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I come from a fourth-generation farming family from Sonora, Mexico, and I’ve been in the agricultural industry my whole life. Growing up on a family farm, I noticed the inefficiency of an opaque and disaggregated industry as well as the numerous disadvantages this represented for growers. I later had the opportunity to travel to 7 other different countries while working at The Giumarra Companies and discovered how this lack of transparency was impacting farmers worldwide.
This is why I started ProducePay in 2014–to empower growers, help the industry and correct many of the inefficiencies I witnessed. I wanted to start a company that would use trust and transparency to correct the blind spots in the industry and, consequently, and make fresh produce accessible for all.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
The most interesting observation has been the evolution of ProducePay’s standing within the industry. When I launched the company, I always thought: “how do I best navigate our company’s future based on the realities that exist in the industry today?” However, as we’ve grown and our network has widened, and with that, so too has our industry influence and impact for growers and buyers around the world. And I began to realize that ProducePay was starting to have a say in shaping the future of this global $1.3 trillion industry. I saw ourselves participating in more panels with fellow leaders in our industry; and in task forces whose purpose was to design better long-term international trade mechanisms and bring the industry to digitization. We started to transition from a reactor to a propeller of change and advancement in the industry. This has been a remarkable experience as a founder.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I used to get the names of investors and funds mixed up all the time. I’d spend days on end with lots of people worth millions or billions of dollars, and I couldn’t remember the name of a potential investor who was going to fund my vision and change my life. My existing investors didn’t think it as funny as I did; but I learned that doing your homework and being prepared to rock every meeting is key.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is being able to do what nobody else is willing to do, to show your team what it takes to succeed. Leadership is leading by example, it’s taking the brunt of the work, so that others feel emboldened to contribute on their own.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Real progress is only ever achieved through hardship.” I think that being part of the farmer community in Mexico, this phrase reflects the motto of every farmer family in Latin America. We know that hard work is the only way to really succeed at what we do.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly are we talking about when we refer to food waste?
We are talking about the amount of food that is produced but never gets eaten by humans, so it ends up never making it to market or being thrown away. This happens with nearly one-third of the world’s food, generating over 1.3 billion tons of waste yearly.
In the US alone, 40% of the food is wasted and 52% of fresh produce is tossed away, more than any other type of food product. And food waste occurs in every stage of the food supply chain, but most of the food lost in produce happens between harvest and retail.
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
One of the main reasons for food waste, specifically fresh produce, is the disaggregation and opaqueness of the industry. The global produce market is a whopping $1.3T industry with great challenges within it. We are talking about a highly inefficient industry, which lacks capital, access, sustainability practices, market insights for decision making, and most of all, trust and transparency among the industry players.
The lack of transparency among the supply chain, as well as the lack of access, means farmers grow something without knowing where it’s really needed or where it needs to go. It’s what I call the “push strategy nature” of the produce industry. Farmers push out their crops without having a line of sight into where it’s going and where exactly it is needed. The fragmented market makes an average piece of produce to travel 1,600 miles, being handled 4 to 8 times due to non-value and middlemen, and rebranded 2 times, increasing costs for consumers.
I can tell you firsthand that as a fourth-generation farmer, knowing that the food you put time and energy into growing might not ever be enjoyed by a family is really devastating.
The food supply chain needs a more direct path, with fewer handoffs and less risk. That means the produce can be harvested at a more ideal time and arrive at its destination more quickly to avoid spoilage.
What are a few of the obstacles that companies and organizations face when it comes to distributing extra or excess food? What can be done to overcome those barriers?
Respectfully, I don’t really agree with the term excess or extra food. The reality is that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who are food insecure. So, in this sense, no food is excess or extra. The problem is that the disaggregated and opaque nature of the produce industry results in edible food not getting to where it’s needed, when it’s needed. This leads to a disconnect between supply and demand. And this is the problem we’re hoping to fix.
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
At ProducePay we believe we are putting windows where walls used to be. We created a digital marketplace that is transforming our fragmented industry into a more connected and sustainable movement, addressing the challenge of food waste by combining innovative technology and an unwavering commitment to trust and transparency.
Within our marketplace, we aim to solve some of the blind spots in the industry, starting with unprecedented access for growers and buyers of fresh produce, connecting them in ways that were previously impossible, while providing market insights, unique financing options, trade protection and ESG support.
This way, consumers receive fresher produce more efficiently, knowing it is grown and delivered in responsible ways. This simplified and empowering approach will help eliminate over 50% of economic waste and create value for everyone involved.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
Some of the things that come to my mind are:
- Buy what you know you are going to eat. Most people buy a lot of perishable food knowing probably no one is going to eat it. All this food becomes waste by the end of the week, when it is no longer good, or people don’t like how it looks anymore. Which takes me to number 2.
- Be forgiving. Not all produce has to look the same. Fruits and vegetables can still be eaten even if they don’t look as big, shiny or juicy as we believe they should. This idea of how fresh produce should look is also one of the reasons food is wasted from harvest to supermarkets.
- Be aware of sustainability. Not only to meet the ESG requirements of retailers, but consumers also want to know how their produce is grown. Consuming produce grown through sustainable practices reduces the impact agriculture can have in the environment.
- Create carbon markets for the agricultural sector. Provide a monetary incentive to make growing and harvesting sustainability a priority. Putting a price on carbon will create a new monetary stream for growers and a way to increase profitability, while creating a more sustainable agriculture industry.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Food matters. It is easy to understand this now, when the world has faced severe difficulty and the availability of bare necessities has been put to the test; but when I first started, not many people cared about agtech or foodtech. Now, it’s booming!
- Sustainability is not an option. If we can’t farm the way we’re doing now indefinitely, it means we’re simply extracting resources from the Earth, and that means feeding mouths today at the expense of more hunger in the future. An unsustainable answer is no answer at all.
- Things will get tough, before they get better… always. Brace yourself for what’s going to come, the night is always darkest before dawn.
- Believe in yourself — Investors, advisors, peers, they’re great. But in the end, as Founder and CEO, there is only one person who will be truly responsible for the outcome… You. So, if the answer you’re about to make doesn’t “sit right” with you; it’s likely not the right one.
- Get ready to grow up — Running a startup has been one of the single-most maturing experiences in my life. Run a company as if you already had 1,000 people and 100 investors, hold yourself up to the highest standards, the faster your polish, the less friction it’ll take to do so.
Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food waste? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.
I think there are really good ideas out there to address food waste in other countries and stages of the supply chain. For example, in the UK there is Food Drop, another startup helping retailers donate their food surplus to charity organizations (not necessarily produce, but any type of food product). I think the idea has a massive expansion opportunity, since it not only helps retailers meet their ESG requirements as well, but also helps them reduce costs in their donations and has a direct impact on the food insecure communities.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think the movement should be around securitizing food for everyone. Nowadays, nearly 193 million people are acutely food insecure. If ProducePay is doing its part among the supply chain, we could also address this issue through social movements, where people can be not just more conscious of what they are eating and wasting, but also helping others get the food they need.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
I would have to say José Andrés. I can’t think of someone who has done more to evolve global conversations around food — from the modernism he has introduced to restaurant dining with his avant-garde cuisine to being a frontline activist providing meals in response to humanitarian and climate crises. I admire his passion for food and his dedication to connect, transform, and heal the world using food as his vehicle for change.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can always visit our website: producepay.com, where we offer our services and have very interesting articles around the produce industry. They can also follow us on social media to find out more about our activities, product launches and recent news.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.