Growing up in Hong Kong, Zoe Wong didn’t enjoy the near flavorless plants that she ate, but after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, she fell in love with the fruits and vegetables sold at the markets.
“I didn’t have much appreciation for produce because most of it was imported, traveled long distances, and did not have quality taste,” Wong told NBC News. "After moving to the Bay Area, I got blown away by the quality and variety of produce we get out here.”
But Wong was stunned to witness how much produce went to waste.
“I was taught at a young age you should cherish food, not waste it,” Wong said.
That shock led Wong to create Cerplus, an online marketplace dedicated to delivering surplus produce and reducing food waste. Businesses with unused produce can use the service to sell to other buyers. Cerplus distributes fruits and vegetables to caterers, restaurants, bakeries, juice bars, smoothie shops, and soup companies.
“What we are providing to farms and businesses are an online platform to sell and buy surplus produce as well as coordinate and streamline delivery logistics and payment,” Wong said.
Wong hopes the service can reduce waste of produce that, while aesthetically unpleasing, is otherwise fine. In North America and Oceania, over 600 pounds of produce are wasted per person each year, according to the United Nations.
“People conceptually only just want pretty looking food and produce that looks ugly or oddly shaped, they tend to reject and so we are trying to get people to overcome that mental barrier,” Wong said.
Cerplus is a continuation of work Wong has been doing. Prior to starting the company, Wong co-founded a small company called Revive Foods, where she focused on recovering cosmetically challenged, overripe, and bruised fruits and turning them into jams.
“Food waste is a universal problem,” Wong said. “We need to come together as a society and redistribute food that would otherwise just go to waste.”