It’s pretty unanimous these days that excessive waste is something we need to steer clear of, for our planet’s sake.
But regardless of that knowledge, in Canada alone, we throw away $3.1 billion worth of produce every year across local farms and distributors — meaning food is getting wasted before it even makes it past the shelves. Why? Because it’s not pretty enough.
That’s why two full-time university students — Sang Le, a marketing and business analytics major at UBC, and Arielle Lok, a finance major at McGill University — started Peko Produce.
Based in Vancouver, Peko Produce specializes in reducing food waste by sourcing this “peculiar” produce directly from suppliers and offering it to consumers at 40% less than grocery store prices. Basically, Le and Lok have given consumers the easy option to purchase highly discounted groceries — and have them delivered — all while helping the planet.
On top of aesthetics, being surplus or near the end of its shelf life will also deter a retailer from carrying produce. In order to save all the rejects, Peko Produce sources items from all of these categories, taking both organic and conventional produce, and creating “mystery boxes” with their findings.
“Local farmers and distributors have an unpredictable supply of fruits and vegetables that have some scarring, ‘ugly’ appearance, considered surplus, or have gotten a little overripe,” Lok tells Daily Hive. “A small portion of this is donated, upcycled, or fed to animals, but the majority is destined for the landfill. This is where Peko steps in — we rescue this rejected produce and curate them into these perfectly imperfect mystery boxes.”
Each mystery box contains 10 to 12 lbs of peculiar and surplus produce and nine to 10 varieties of these “imperfect” local and exotic fruits and vegetables. The boxes are priced at 40% less than the likes at grocery stores, feature 100% recyclable packaging, and can be delivered anywhere in Metro Vancouver.
While working on a passion project to reduce food waste, Le met Lok online through a mutual friend. After the two bonded over their shared passion for social entrepreneurship, they got to work together as partners.
“Upon more research, we learned that roughly 10% of the $31 billion worth of food waste in Canada comes from rejected produce due to cosmetic imperfections,” says Le. “We came up with Peko as a win-win solution for everyone — consumers save money by saving food, and suppliers recover unrecognized revenue.”
With Canadians currently experiencing the highest increase in food costs since 2010, this service offers an easy way to cut back on your grocery bill, all while helping reduce the role food waste plays in the climate crisis.
Being already highly experienced amidst earning their full-time degrees, Le had a background as an operator in food tech, and Lok had expertise in venture capital from the consumer goods industry. In May 2021, they merged their expertise to officially create Peko Produce.
“Hard-to-predict supply and quality control for short-dated items have been an ongoing challenge for us. Time management too, of course — we’re only human,” says Le. “However, we love seeing Peko’s impact in our community, and that keeps us going.”
“The most memorable event for us was the floods in November 2021. This disrupted the supply chain and caused a significant increase in surplus food, yet many grocery stores were emptied out,” she continues. “Peko was able to do our small part and diverted over 12,000 lbs of produce to our customers, filled up community fridges, and donated parts of our proceeds to aid impacted communities in the interior.”
Today, Le and Lok continue to run the company all the while pursuing full-time school as well as internships. “While we’re starting with peculiar produce, our vision is to build the future of sustainable and socially conscious grocery,” says Le.
Since May 31, 2021, Peko Produce has rescued over 150,000 lbs of produce from landfills and saved over $400,000 in the grocery bills of their supporters.