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Peko Produce finds solution for “peculiar” fruit and vegetables

Canadian company hopes to deliver savings to consumers while diverting food waste from landfills
Peko produce box

Food waste and rising food costs are two interconnected industry issues that have spawned startups like Too Good to Go and Flashfood in Canada. Peko Produce, which recovers “peculiar” fruit and vegetables and packages them in “mystery boxes” for home delivery at 40% off grocery store prices, is another solution gaining traction. 

Sang Lê and Arielle Lok founded the company while they were university students in British Columbia. They launched the business in 2021 in Metro Vancouver, and now two years later, Peko is bringing its first mystery boxes to another city, Calgary. 

Having been acquired earlier this year by Fresh Prep, a sustainable meal kit delivery service based in Calgary, Lê says Alberta’s largest city is a natural choice for Peko’s first foray outside Vancouver. 

READ: Grocery leaders share how they’re prioritizing their sustainability efforts

“Our plan is to eventually expand Peko across Canada,” says Lê, noting Fresh Prep also delivers meal kits to more than 20 other cities in Alberta and British Columbia. “But it makes sense for us to test the waters in Calgary first.”

Made up of about 12 pounds of surplus produce, representing at least nine different vegetables and fruits, each Peko mystery box retails for $26.69 for subscribers (weekly, biweekly or monthly) – that’s 10% off the $32.99 cost for a one-time purchase of a single box. 

In Vancouver, the produce has so far been mostly sourced from wholesalers and farmers, who face difficulty selling misshapen, bruised or overly ripe produce to grocers. 

“Some stores, for instance, have a policy of only accepting green bananas at point of arrival, knowing they turn yellow quickly,” explains Lê. “But all the food in our mystery boxes is totally edible and also healthy.” 

Most of Peko’s fruit and vegetable supply in the Calgary market will come from Fresh Prep.  

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Peko estimates it has so far saved customers nearly $1 million in grocery bills and diverted over 200,000 lbs of food from going to landfill. Rotting food in landfills release methane, a greenhouse gas found to be eight times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

Peko also provides farmers and wholesalers a source of income for imperfect food. 

READ: Second Harvest talks results of two-year food waste project

One dollar from every sale of a mystery box also goes to local food rescue charities, including the Food Stash Foundation and Vancouver Food Runners, and in Alberta, the Leftovers Foundation.

Peko also provides deliveries to thousands of students at Lê’s alma matter, UBC, where she earned a degree in commerce. The upstart has a partnership with the university that gives its students, staff and faculty 15% off orders. 

The brand markets itself on social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, where it teases the possible produce in boxes each week and posts recipes, like for stuffed portobello, that make use of produce hauls. 

Lê says the service has proven most popular with shoppers between the ages of 25 and 45, and socio-economically, “the biggest customer segment is middle to upper middle class. These shoppers want to cut down on their food spending by supplementing what they buy at the grocery store with home delivery, and like that they are reducing their impact on the environment.” 

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