The Journey to Goodly Foods

A few years back the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB) received a donation of 9,000 kilograms of bananas in one day. They knew they would only be able to give out about half of that amount before they turned brown and mushy. CEO of the GVFB, Aart Schuurman Hess had an idea. He reached out to Potluck Café, a local Vancouver catering company, to see if they could turn the remaining bananas into banana bread. It worked. One week they gave out bananas, next week banana bread.

And with that, the idea for Goodly Foods was born.

In 2017, in partnership with Fulmer Capital Partners Inc., the GVFB embarked on a pilot project to test the viability of developing a social enterprise that would use surplus produce to make nutritious food that could be distributed to Food Bank members and sold to buyers while providing training and jobs for people who experienced barriers to traditional employment.

We took direction from our beliefs that:

● Access to healthy, sustainable food is a basic human right.
● Food is a valuable resource. Once grown, produce has captured resource inputs that have value (water, sun, energy, fertilizer, human time).
● People have the potential for growth and to be self-determining.

As the newly hired General Manager for Goodly Foods, I first needed to find out which vegetables and fruits were going to waste. Little local data existed however on the volume, flow, and quality of specific items. However, we had been told anecdotally that tomatoes were a likely vegetable to have larger volumes of surplus available. I began to sleuth!

I started calling local growers, wholesalers, and distributors. I was initially unsure of the language to use and was very aware of potential sensitivities around talking about food waste. As a result, I started using the term “below seconds” to describe the type of produce that did not make the grade for primary markets nor secondary markets but was still safe and usable for human consumption. What I found was a great willingness from several suppliers to partner with us and started exploring their volume and flow of usable “below seconds” tomatoes, onions and carrots. I also learned how much they love their produce and were thrilled to have somewhere for that produce to go and that it would continue to feed people.

We then, of course, needed to develop a product. The aim was to create something that was nutritious and delicious with broad appeal to everyone from young children to the elderly. It was also important to adhere to the highest nutritional guidelines of the GVFB. But who would develop the recipe?

It has been our great fortune to have local celebrity Chef and all round excellent human, Chef Karen Barnaby as our Product Development Chef. Through several creative iterations and many community tasting events, Chef Barnaby developed, tested and refined our Hearty Tomato Vegetable Soup. Our tasters loved it!

Our soup has a simple ingredient list, with no unnecessary additives. We use whole tomatoes – skins, seeds and all. It tastes like the soup mom or grandma used to make. It is designed to deliver the convenience of a home cooked meal with the flexibility to make it your own ‘comfort food’. One mom who tested it adds sour cream and purées it. It can also be further customized by adding spices, beans, meat, rice or pasta.

With a basic recipe ready to go, we then needed to get into a bigger kitchen and start producing batches large enough to distribute to Food Bank channels. We are grateful to have found Commissary Connect, an entrepreneur-focused commercial kitchen, to be our facility partner. During the pilot phase we worked with Potluck Café, a well-respected social enterprise that trains and employs neighbourhood residents from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Potluck Café provided the culinary labour and skills to cook up many batches of soup at Commissary Connect. Through the pilot we were able to offer viable employment opportunities for a small number of individuals and successfully distributed significant volumes of soup to local organizations, soup kitchens, and directly to Food Bank members.

At its core, Goodly Foods is all about “Cooking with Potential”. We are re-framing the narrative around food “waste” into one of viewing surplus food as a resource. We are working with the potential of the food system rather than focusing on the problem of food waste. We know the value in creating a business model focused on evolving the capacity of all people and systems with whom we work. We hold an image of the food system of Metro Vancouver working to its full potential. The way in which we develop, process and make food products available is designed by asking how we can be working in ways that continually contribute to developing the capabilities of our customers, suppliers, partners and employees.

We are very excited to soon be cooking up lots more of our Hearty Tomato Vegetable Soup at Commissary Connect’s new location and partnering with our new culinary employment partner H.A.V.E. (Hope, Action, Values, Ethics) Culinary Training Society.

We invite you to try our soup (more products to come!) and follow the Goodly Foods journey!

Alexa Pitoulis
GM, Goodly Foods

You can learn more about how it all began by checking out this Globe and Mail article, CLICK HERE.
To see a video on our pilot phase, CLICK HERE.