San Francisco company Afresh aims to prevent food waste

If working for a company that has ambitions to change the world is the dream, then the 60-plus employees of Afresh have passed the “living the dream” stage of evolution and moved on to implementing the dream.

San Francisco company Afresh, ranked third among small businesses on the Top Workplaces list, is on a mission to “eliminate food waste and make fresh food accessible to all.” It says it is on track to prevent 300 million pounds of food waste by the end of 2022.

While food waste happens all along the supply chain, 40% of it takes place at the retail stage, which has long been without specific purpose-created technology.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking when you think that a peach can make it all the way to New Jersey from the San Joaquin Valley, then gets thrown out,” said Lois Smith, director of machine learning at Afresh. “It’s a huge waste. A waste of transportation efforts, waste of water, waste of energy to grow the peach. It’s super relevant right now to solve this problem as best we can.”

Afresh is tackling the problem of food waste with its Fresh Operating System, which is designed for inventory, forecasting, ordering and store operations. Ultimately Afresh aims to increase profits for grocery stores while getting fresher food to consumers and benefiting sustainability across the fresh-food supply chain. Grocers across the country use the service. The company estimates it is responsible for 6.9 million pounds of food waste avoided, 140 million gallons of water saved and a reduction of 3.82% in greenhouse gas emissions arising from the transportation, storage and dispersal of wasted food. Their clients include Albertson’s, WinCo Foods, Heinen’s Markets, and Fresh Thyme Market.

The company has four core values: candor, proactivity, kindness and humility.

“It’s a really interesting combination because you wouldn’t necessarily think those are the four ingredients to support a really happy and productive workplace, but they are,” Smith said. “ I’ve never seen a company rally so strongly behind their core values ​​as Afresh does.”

She also noted how these values, which might not be associated with the actual work they do, in fact influence the work directly.

“Candor means that you’re giving honest feedback; people aren’t scared,” Smith said. “That’s actually one of my favorite parts about the Afresh culture. I don’t fear retribution for speaking honestly or raising flags saying ‘this is an issue’ or ‘potentially we should be considering this product direction.’ It’s taken in stride because of the last one, kindness. It’s never an attack. We all want the same thing. We all want this company to be successful.”

Aslan Law, a senior product designer, said he had several job offers but chose Afresh because he really liked the people who interviewed him and thought he’d like to work with them.

“I absolutely enjoyed speaking with the people. I could feel a friendliness. They were very warm, and they were all very passionate about the work they do.” Law also sees how this positivity in the culture translates into better productivity. “If you need help and reach out for it, no one will say no, even if they’re really busy,” Law said.

Smith echoed Law’s observation. “People are more than happy to really lift each other up and support people,” Smith said. “It’s more like ‘our team did this,’ which is really nice.”

Smith said the success of the company’s values ​​can be measured through the retention of employees but also through their growth in the marketplace as they add clients and scale up their own staffing.

“The one message I always repeat when I interview candidates: There’s something really powerful about working for a mission-driven company at this time. ‘Did you wake up and feel you’re excited about work?’ I’m excited to work at Afresh, and honestly it’s an amazing thing to find right now in the pandemic, post-pandemic world.” Smith said.

Marcus Crowder is a Bay Area freelance writer.

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