Studies have shown that the American diet is a leading contributor to our increasing public health problems. 45% of the adult population lives with diabetes or pre-diabetes. A similar proportion has heart disease, and three in four are overweight or obese. Health conditions are brought on by what we eat—or don’t eat—are the leading cause of death. Nine in 10 Americans don’t get the recommended five portions of fruit or vegetables a day (and 40% of Americans don’t manage to eat even one piece of fresh fruit each day), yet this amount (400g) has been shown to protect people from all those conditions, and the planet produces enough fruits and vegetables for everyone.
A further issue is that those who do buy fresh produce are throwing away 30% of it uneaten. Overall in the system, 50% of fresh produce goes to waste. On average, each person in the U.S. throws away about 2.5 pounds of fruit and veggies every week. That adds up to 58,500 tons of food waste a day—equivalent to 130 fully-loaded jumbo jets.
One company that is trying to address both of these issues at the same time is kencko, a company that produces freeze dried fruit smoothies, made only from fruits and vegetables, with no added sugar. In 2021, kencko is on track to ship more than 10 million freeze-dried smoothies: the equivalent of 2210 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables.
As part of my research of purpose-driven businesses I recently interviewed Tomás Froes, founder and CEO of kencko to learn more about the inspiration behind the company and its products and how in 2021 its shelf-stable products would help its consumers avoid throwing away 663 tons of fresh produce.
Tomás Froes: It was mainly out of need. In 2014, I was diagnosed with acute gastritis and was told I would rely on a daily pill regimen for the rest of my life. I was at a loss: I did not want to have to choose between constant medication or constant pain. Growing up in Portugal, I was involved with my grandfather’s farm and was introduced early to a vegetarian lifestyle. Although I had never tried it before (Portuguese also have a deep love of meat and dairy!), I turned to this lifestyle to see how it could impact my health for the better.
Marquis: Can you say a bit about your technology and process. How do you make the powdered product? What are the nutrition differences between making a smoothie with whole fruit and with powder?
Froes: It was of peak importance to us that our smoothies are equivalent in nutrition to traditional smoothies. Each kencko sachet includes 2.5 servings of fruits and vegetables and delivers nutritional benefits equivalent to at least 200g of fresh produce, with no added sugars, sweeteners, or artificial anything. This is because, technically, it’s the same ingredients as a smoothie - just dehydrated. Our ingredients are freeze-dried soon after harvest, when they’re at their most nutritious, then powdered and blended according to our recipes to make each smoothie flavor, and packaged in single-serving, compostable sachets.
Marquis: Can you say more about the social and environmental impact of your company? E.g. environmental effects and health and other benefits?
Froes: Right now, 40% of Americans don’t manage to eat even one piece of fresh fruit each day and 90% aren’t meeting their needs for plant-based foods. Those who do buy fresh produce are throwing away 30% of it uneaten. This is where we step in. By providing shelf-stable freeze-dried smoothies, we aim to get more people eating their recommended five-a-day of fruits and veggies, while simultaneously diverting that 30% from the waste stream. This year alone, we’ve helped our customers avoid 663 tons of food waste.
Marquis: Why are you a B Corp? What did you learn through the processes that changed your company?
Froes: For kencko, there’s no sense in helping individuals to be healthy if we aren’t also contributing to the health of their communities and ecosystems. Our B Corp certification helps to keep us accountable on that score. For example, because we work with organic fruit and vegetables we rely heavily on small to medium-scale growers around the world. Taking care of that supply chain by ensuring fair business practices is part and parcel of being a top-to-bottom healthy enterprise. Waste management is another one: by tracking and setting targets to reduce our production waste, we’re making sure we align our operations with our product, which is designed to help our members cut food waste.The B Corp certification process really helped us to embed that more holistic way of looking at ‘healthy’. The whole team is really invested in it, and proud to be a B Corp business.
Marquis: When you were deciding to make kencko freeze-dried, was this intentional for waste purposes, or an accidental sustainable byproduct of the process?
Froes: The freeze drying was a two-fold solution. First, I found as I was transitioning to a healthier diet, my biggest problem was incorporating quick preparations that still tasted great. Everyone loves smoothies, but they’re messy and require tons of ingredients and equipment on-hand. We created our shaker bottle that comes with your first kencko order to just require a few rigorous shakes for an on-the-go snack.
Also, once I realized how wasteful a produce-filled lifestyle can be, finding a solution to reducing the waste while maintaining that lifestyle was a top priority. I hated opening my refrigerator to find rotting carrots and wilted spinach. Freeze-drying has completely bypassed this problem, saving both physical waste and wasted money.
Marquis: Can you talk about other aspects of the business, aside from fighting food waste, that contribute to your B Corp status?
Froes: Yes, we’re very proud to be a holistically sustainable company with the B Corp status cementing that. In addition to reducing food waste, all of our packaging is plant-based and compostable, and all emissions from shipping are offset. Plus, all members can access free coaching from a registered dietitian to provide the support they need to grow their healthy habits with kencko and ensure their relationship with nutrition is a positive one.
Marquis: How do you balance growth with your sustainable practices? What are your growth plans?
Froes: Growing sustainably is not an easy feat! We just launched our gumdrops line this year, which is an alternative to a sweet between-meals treat and packs 1 serving of produce and 3.5g fiber per bag. We plan to expand past our smoothies and gumdrops in the coming months to help our members fill some of the other fruit and vegetable gaps in their day. We have done our homework to ensure each step of the process is in line with our goal to keep kencko organic, sustainable, and low-impact on our planet.