Juan Acosta is the executive chef at the Motion Picture & Television Fund, a retirement community assisting former members of the entertainment industry, including three restaurants that offer a full-service experience to residents at dinner.
As soon as he enrolled in Compass Group USA's Imperfectly Delicious Produce program, Acosta had a feeling there would be critics. Two of them to be exact.
“My biggest complainers, when they heard about what I was doing they gave me an earful,” Acosta says. “I served them the food and I asked ‘How is it?’ And they said, ‘Oh, these carrots are delicious. And this peanut salad and everything is great.’ I said ‘So you like it, right?’ I came back and showed them the product and said, ‘This is what you’re eating.’ They were really surprised.”
Acosta’s experience, while on a small scale, provides an accurate window into Compass Group's IDP program, which currently operates in 16 states, and hopes to spread nationally by December 2016. Christine Seitz, the vice president of culinary at Compass Group business excellence, says it’s all about perception.
“If you think about it, it’s grocery stores that have helped set the standard of what produce should look like,” she says. “With restaurants and people in contract food service, we’re cutting and chopping that product up. What’s important to us is that we’re getting fresh, local, and seasonal produce. It can be misshapen.”
Simply, don’t judge spinach by its cover.
Thinking outside the visual box can change the face of farming, Seitz says. In the short term, it can save water, combat food waste, and help growers re-think agricultural practices. That’s more than enough for Compass, a foodservice management and support services company that has more than 220,000 associates in North America, and subsidiary Bon Appetit Management Company to continue expanding a program that began in April 2014.
Seitz says the team gathered and tried to figure out how to save produce that was being left behind for superficial reasons. The “learning” states were California and Washington. “Essentially with IDP we’ve created our own grade of produce. There’s no grading system out there for what we’re trying to capture,” she says.
The group headed to Church Brothers Farm in Salinas, California, and surveyed the field. Some questions started popping up.
“When we saw the spinach, we proposed the question to them. What if you let this grow another week?” Seitz recalls. “We would consider buying that. And they’re like, ‘Let’s look into it.’ They were so open about it. It was great.”
Initially, working out the kinks wasn’t easy. The possibilities were transparent but the concepts weren’t. Seitz says the processes involved were a work in progress, and still are to some degree.
“Some of our challenges have been with the ordering system and not with the product. I would say more of our challenges are with getting the systems in place than with them actually using the product,” she explains. “They’re happy when they get their product. It’s great product.”
And everyone, from chefs to growers to distributors, and even the most critical customers, marvel at the numbers. Acosta says when he first saw the report, although he had his suspicions, he couldn’t believe how deep the impact truly was.