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Ugly Foods: The Creation of a Mobile App

Posted by on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 in Mobile Cloud Computing, News.

MCC_5Written Edward Yun, Vanderbilt ’17 (Computer Science)

Last fall, I read an article about the amount of food wasted in the U.S. every year. What surprised me most was how much we throw away because of arbitrary “beauty” rules. If a fruit or vegetable is less than 90 percent perfect, it can’t be sold to grocery stores, even though its taste and nutrition is exactly the same as its “perfect” counterpart. This wastage amounts to 25 percent of all produce that is discarded.

Farmers throw away 25-40 percent of the produce (fruits and vegetables) they grow each year. Surprisingly, nothing is wrong with these unwanted crops; they’re simply deemed “too ugly” by grocery stores and suppliers. Discarding these ugly foods not only hurts farmers’ profits, but also wastes 60 trillion gallons of water and produces 8 percent more greenhouse gases each year – all while 13 percent of the world goes hungry every day.

Being enrolled in the University Course “Tackling Big Questions with Mobile Cloud Computing” provided me with an opportunity to create an ugly foods mobile application to help combat the issue. I enjoyed the structure of the course since I never liked the traditional classroom format and found that I always learned better by doing. This class allowed me try to build a company throughout the semester, and it was a fantastic experience.

I actually thought the course would be about mobile cloud computing, and not involve working on an idea throughout the semester. I was surprised on the first day of class, but had been thinking about urban farming for a few months and pitched my idea about ugly foods.

ClassroomAfter pitching the idea to my classmates, six students agreed to join the team and we started working on it immediately! We formed three mini-teams: customers, operations and development. Our team’s initial idea was to partner with local farmers, purchase ugly produce at a discount and sell it to university students. Zach Ullman and Nina Vaswani worked on operations, and had the responsibility of talking to farmers, negotiating deals, determining prices, managing inventory and handling deliveries. McKenzie Jones and Stephanie de Zarraga worked on identifying customers by speaking to college students, low-income families and young adults. Alec and Grey are our engineers, and they built the back-end architecture of the mobile application to record and manage our inventory, customers and farmers. They also built the front-end user interface that customers use to shop for groceries.

Over the semester, the customer team talked to more than 150 potential customers to determine their current shopping habits, thoughts on ugly foods and value to us. They also looked into different types of customers, including college students, young working adults, low-income families and people living far away from grocery stores. The operations team talked to 25 farmers to figure out what happens to their ugly produce, the amount they would be willing to sell and the pricing. Finally, the development team designed and built our minimal viable product, which lets customers sign up, order produce and track their deliveries.

MCC_6The long–term goal for our Ugly Foods project is to decrease food waste, increase farmer profits, and better distribute fresh produce. We will start by selling local fruits and vegetables to Vanderbilt students, while building out our supply chain. Next, we will expand to “food deserts,” neighborhoods without a grocery stores within one mile. In Nashville, over 16,000 people live in food deserts. After we determine the benefits of student versus food desert customers, we can plan expansions to other cities. The goal is to strategically expand and develop a nationwide supply chain, in order to offer a wider array of groceries.

The goals for the next 12 months include hiring a full-time CEO and team to run Ugly Foods, acquiring our first 100 customers, and locking down five farmers to deliver 1,000 pounds of groceries per week.


Stephanie De zarraga, Vanderbilt ’17 (Medicine, Health & Society)
I enrolled in this course because I will be working in the tech industry next year, but my studies at Vanderbilt had been focused on health care and economics. The University Course “Tackling Big Questions with Mobile Cloud Computing” jumped out at me and I immediately enrolled thinking that it was a small lecture-discussion based class. The structure of the class surpassed my expectations as I was able to collaborate with my classmates on the development side and build a mobile app based on customer needs.


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