…That’s our entire mission! We use produce that would have otherwise gone to waste from our farm, other farms, and grocery retailers to make incredible ice creams and sorbets! We want to prove that cosmetically imperfect and overripe produce are NOT useless! They may not be beautiful by consumer standards, but they can become something delicious.
It has been estimated that each year, more than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than $160 billion worth of food thrown away each year. At the same time, in many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. The waste of food is not only a waste of money and bad for the environment, but it is also making vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.
Authority Magazine started a new series called “How Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies and Food Companies Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste.” In this interview series, we are talking to leaders and principals of Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, Food Companies, and any business or nonprofit that is helping to eliminate food waste, about the initiatives they are taking to eliminate or reduce food waste.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katey Evans.
Lovingly grown on our third generation family farm, The Frozen Farmer has taken the farm-to-table trend to a new location — your grocer’s freezer. A proudly woman-owned company led by Katey Evans, The Frozen Farmer was a natural extension of the Evans family’s mission to provide field-grown fruits and veggies, harvested at the peak of perfection, to feed your family and theirs.
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?
First and foremost, we are third generation farmers. My husband Kevin and I own and operate a more than 3,000 acre farm in Delaware. The problem we were having was the more grocery retailers we acquired, the more food we had to waste. Our cantaloupes might be too big or too small, the strawberries may have had cosmetic imperfections, the watermelon was bruised — you name it, we had to waste it.
One night while kicking around ideas for what to do with all this otherwise wasted fruit, the idea for The Frozen Farmer was born. We realized that we could make ice cream and sorbet with fresh fruit from our farm using the perfectly imperfect produce that tastes delicious despite the way it looks.
I’m so proud of everything we’re doing, but I have to say, I never saw myself as a farmer’s wife! Ironically, my first job was picking vegetables on a neighbor’s farm when I was twelve. I always had a desire to work and was very self-motived. My parents are entrepreneurs and work really hard, so I’ve always wanted to do the same.
As I got older, I started participating in pageants, and that’s when I discovered my love for public speaking and working with people. That ignited my passion for PR, so I got my degree in PR & Marketing, and then I fell in love with a farmer.
When you marry a farmer, you marry the farm, too. Over the years, I’ve definitely gotten my hands dirty in the fields, driven heavy equipment, and truly immersed myself in this life. With The Frozen Farmer though, I’m able to use my skills in PR and marketing to build the brand that we’re so proud of and marry my passions for people, marketing, and sustainable farming.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
Being on ABC’s Shark Tank was certainly the most interesting thing that’s happened to us so far! It was probably the most pivotal moment for our business as well. It literally put our brand on the map with grocery retailers across the United States.
At the time, it really felt like good and bad timing. In 2019, we pitched our business, auditioned, and flew to California to film our segment in the tank. Our episode aired in March 2020 on the first Friday that America was officially in lockdown. Our episode got record ratings because everyone was home! While that seemed great, grocers were having huge supply chain issues, so they weren’t looking for new products. We were afraid that this big moment would pass us by.
Luckily, our episode re-aired in June 2020, and that’s when we started getting calls from retailers. Everyone had adjusted to this new normal and felt ready to take on new products like ours!
Our Shark Tank investor, Lori Greiner, has been heavily involved in our business ever since. She was a big part of our packaging redesign when we launched our new flavor line in early 2021, and she is also involved in day-to-day operations. We email weekly! She’s always informed on decisions and what’s happening with The Frozen Farmer. Of course, it’s also a huge help to have someone with almost one million followers posting about your product on Instagram!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I would define leadership as being someone who invites other people along for the journey. For me, being a leader means having a great team behind me. I can’t credit anything we’ve accomplished to my skills alone. We have the best team behind us in day-to-day operations and large scale manufacturing. We also have a state of the art facility that helps supply our products nationally and a phenomenal sales and development team. True leadership is cultivating a team who works together toward a common goal and shares credit for each achievement.
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?
What I mean when I refer to food waste is any ingredient that wouldn’t otherwise be sold in grocery stores, especially in the produce section. Sadly, a lot of perfectly good produce gets rejected simply because it isn’t cosmetically perfect enough to be on the shelf. Some farming operations even leave cosmetically imperfect produce in the field to rot because it simply isn’t going to make money. Of course, this is a huge loss in profit and likely one of the reasons that the number of farming operations in the U.S. decreases each year.
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
There are three places where food waste happens: on the farm, at the store or manufacturer, and at the consumer’s table.
Our mission to reduce waste is full circle. We start by reducing our own farm waste by using that produce for The Frozen Farmer’s ice cream and sorbet. We have actually outsourced as much as we can of our own imperfect produce and have moved on to using ingredients from other farms that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Then we work with the grocery chains to see how we can source from the store’s rejected load. Can we use their watermelon that has passed peak ripeness? Can we collect the strawberries that didn’t sell while they were perfectly red and ripe?
Lastly, we do our best to educate consumers. We want to help them, too! The thing is, consumers tend to overbuy. Think of all the times you’ve bought a whole bunch of bananas that have turned brown on your counter or how many boxes of spinach have gone soggy in your fridge. By being mindful of their habits, consumers can make tremendous impact by reducing food waste at home.
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?
There are huge logistical obstacles when it comes to distributing excess food. Most importantly, the food has to be deemed safe for consumers. If anything has been sitting out too long to be considered safe for consumption, it goes to waste.
The second big obstacle is the shelf life of fresh ingredients. You have to utilize them while they’re fresh, and that can be an incredibly small window with produce. Plus, if you’re in a surplus and you can’t find a buyer quick enough, the produce goes past peak ripeness and you can’t find a customer.
Lastly are the cosmetic standards. As I mentioned earlier, there are extremely precise standards for produce to pass to even be placed on the shelf. Everything has to be in peak ripeness, fruits and vegetables can’t be too big or too small, they can’t be oddly shaped . . . the list goes on.
Strawberries are a great example of a tough food to distribute. They’re actually the reason we started this whole thing in the first place! Strawberries have such a short harvest window, and if the market gets flooded within that window of time, they go past peak ripeness, and they go to waste. They’re not inedible, they’re just not beautiful anymore. Strawberries also tend to grow in odd shapes sometimes, and grocery don’t want those cosmetically imperfect fruits on their shelves because consumers will pass them by.
Luckily for us though, overripe strawberries make the best sorbet! Our Strawberry Sorbet is our national bestseller!
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
That’s our entire mission! We use produce that would have otherwise gone to waste from our farm, other farms, and grocery retailers to make incredible ice creams and sorbets! We want to prove that cosmetically imperfect and overripe produce are NOT useless! They may not be beautiful by consumer standards, but they can become something delicious.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
I think the biggest thing that would help is a mindset shift amongst consumers. By being more mindful of how the buy product and putting an end to overbuying, consumers could have a huge impact on the demand placed on farms like ours to produce more and more and more as the population grows.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Everything! I’m a farmer’s wife, and I joke about that all the time. Here I am in this consumer packaged goods world that I got thrown into overnight. To give you some perspective, this time last year we were in 100 stores, now we’re in 9,000 stores. It’s been incredible, but every single day is like kindergarten! We have incredible advisors, so I learn something completely new every day, and I’m absorbing everything like a sponge!
You don’t know what you don’t know, right? I never knew how many things go into putting a product on the grocery store shelf. It completely blows my mind! From the time a retailer tells you they want to sell your product to it being on the shelf, it’s a huge process. There’s vendor set up, paperwork, insurance, making the product, storing it in a warehouse, logistics, transmitting orders, so much more. There is an immense amount of work behind launching a product and getting it on the shelf for consumers!
It’s still like learning a new language — the grocery world speaks in acronyms and they have these deeply thoughtful promotional calendars. When our pints are 2 for $7, for example, the planning that goes into that is incredible! Those sales and promotions and little flyers are planned a year out! It’s a ton to learn, but every day is a new and exciting challenge.
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.
We have worked extensively with Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation to leverage how we can work sustainability into their corporate mission. They support the global 10x20x30 Initiative, a program that brings together more than 10 of the world’s largest food retailers and providers, each engaging at least 20 suppliers to halve food loss and waste by 2030. We’re so impressed that such large corporation is doing so much for sustainability, hunger, and reducing waste.
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. :-)
This has nothing to do with my brand but rather every brand and everyone! It sounds like such a pageant answer, but I would take the virus away completely. It has affected every part of life from big business to small business, from the work force to children in school, and from our mental health to how we’re treating one another. I would love to start a movement to bring more pre-pandemic normalcy back to everyone!
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’ve met some incredible people this year and made friends with so many amazing entrepreneurs and celebrities — people I never thought I would meet! It’s been a year of surreal moments, but if I could choose ANYONE, I would love to sit down with my grandmother. She passed when I was newly married, and we didn’t have kids or a business yet, and I was just diving into farm life. My grandmother was my best friend growing up. I’m the only girl in my family, and she was such a girl’s girl. We had a special bond, and she was always pushing me to do more. I was top of my class and class president, and she was always cheering me on and just so proud of everything I did. I would love to tell her about the last five years over breakfast and show her what we’ve built.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find us online at www.thefrozenfarmer.com and on Instagram at @thefrozenfarmer. Of course, you can also try out our sorbets at a retailer near you! You can check out our store locater here and go get yourself a pint or two!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.