Pop Quiz, Monday with Anya Ranganathan, Co-founder of Bad Apple Produce

Anya Ranganathan

The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?
Anya Ranganathan

Anya Ranganathan
Photo credit: Anya Ranganathan

What is your job role?
Co-founder of Bad Apple Produce

Tell us about your company?
Bad Apple Produce is a produce delivery service with a mission to reduce food waste. In line with our focus on sustainability, we source to produce at risk of going to waste due to supermarkets’ strict appearance requirements: maybe it’s a touch too big or small for commercial sale, has a splotch of discoloration on the peel, or is in excess supply. We deliver directly to our subscribers’ doorsteps, and because of our atypical sourcing model, we’re able to offer prices up to 50% cheaper than what you’d get in the grocery store– we’re selling avocados for $0.79, for example. Our service is perfect for anyone interested in sustainability, saving money, or that prefers the convenience of home delivery.

What do you love most about your job?
I love educating people about sustainability issues in the produce industry. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing potential customers have that “Aha” moment when they realize that grocery stores’ definition of high-quality produce isn’t necessarily the accurate one. Providing people with a platform to make conscious purchases that reflect their values is what motivates me.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?
Our food system is broken. Over 50% of produce grown in the US goes uneaten, and in spite of this waste, 12% of US households are food insecure. The concurrency of food waste and insecurity drives me to build a company that can make an impact.

How do your co-workers inspire you?
My co-founder Stefanie leads by example and has natural business acumen, sharpened by fifteen years of experience in the produce industry. She started working at her father’s produce wholesaler during her summer breaks in high school, and over the years, took on every major operational role in the company– from warehouse attendant to salesperson. Only after learning the business inside out did she step into a manager position. Her story demonstrates that the best leaders take the time to understand the constituent parts of their business and build empathy for their employees.

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?
We make up fake marketing campaigns. We’re big on produce puns!

What are some of the challenges of your job?
We are selling a product that by definition, isn’t in retail supermarkets. Educating customers about our produce supply can be a challenge. Occasionally, we get people that ask questions like “Why should I buy this if it’s low quality / bad?” Even after we explain that supermarkets’ aesthetic requirements are arbitrary, some people have internalized these standards to the point that they are resistant to alternatives.

We mitigate these challenges by thinking about how to use language to craft a story about our product. One of my favorite ways to frame the issue is to ask people if they’ve ever been to Panera– if you’re familiar with their side options, they offer these child-size apples about half the weight of what you’d see in the grocery store. Unless a grower can find a Panera alternative, supermarkets won’t purchase those apples, which leads to them going to waste. That’s where we step in.

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?
I co-founded a similar company in undergrad. Long story short, my partnership went sour, and I ended up selling my equity. I learned two things from the fallout: 1) pick a business partner with a complementary skill set. We were both undergrads with strategy experience and no knowledge of agriculture. Had someone in the produce industry joined the mix, we would’ve been more productive. 2) Know when to move on, and develop an exit strategy. In the later stages of the fallout, I felt the need to cling to the project because I was with it from its inception. However, at a point, my involvement wasn’t productive, so I focused on using my network to find an exit strategy. After a few months of conversations, I found a produce company interested in collaborating on my new project.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?
The produce industry is traditional in structure– most of the large-scale producers are father/son businesses with limited space for disruption. My advice for people interested in getting involved in agriculture is to speak with as many growers as possible to develop a granular understanding of their needs. Learn to speak the language of their industry, and they will be more receptive to innovation.

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:

Website: badappleproduce.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/badappleproduce/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/badappleproduce/

Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

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