Christine Moseley isn’t afraid of big problems.
“I’ve always been a go-big-or-go-home type of person,” she asserts.
So far, Moseley has mainly gone big. In one of her first forays into organizing, she led a neighborhood phonebook pickup to collect and recycle about 300 old phonebooks — not bad for a nine-year-old kid. By 17 she had started a nonprofit that aimed to “democratize music” by providing free lessons to under-privileged kids in her community. Now, at 34, Moseley is tackling an often-overlooked but massive problem — food waste — through her two-year-old B2B startup, Full Harvest.
FOOD WASTE IS A MASSIVE HUMAN RIGHTS — AND BUSINESS — PROBLEM
Nearly one-third of the world’s food — about 1.3 billion tons — goes to waste each year, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The FAO predicts the economic loss of that food waste totals nearly $1 trillion globally each year. And about half of that food waste is produce, the FAO says. Yet one in seven people in the United States is food insecure. In San Francisco, where Full Harvest is based, the number is more like a quarter of the population, Moseley says.
In the developing world, the food waste culprits are food-based businesses like restaurants and distributors. That’s especially the case in the United States.
“Food-based businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and institutional food service providers are a critical link between the farm and our forks,” JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate for the Food and Agriculture program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote last April. “However, these types of businesses also generate a great deal of food waste, estimated at four out of every ten pounds of food wasted.”
Berkenkamp says the economic impact is a $57 billion annual loss by U.S. businesses.
“The sheer magnitude of wasted food has driven this issue into the national spotlight, bringing heightened scrutiny to food-based businesses,” Berkenkamp continued. “In turn, investors that hold stock in these companies, such as pension funds, endowments, and asset management firms, have a direct interest in understanding how the generation, management, and disposal of wasted food affects the profitability and environmental performance of companies in their investment portfolios.”
If just a quarter of the food wasted globally could be recovered, the FAO predicts, about 870 million hungry people could be fed. And that’s where Full Harvest come in. Christine Moseley’s company connects farms to food and beverage businesses to sell their “ugly” or imperfect produce at a discounted cost. Launched almost two years ago, the startup recently drew a flurry of media attention for raising $2 million in venture backing, led by Wildframe Ventures, BBG Ventures, and Early Impact Ventures.
For Moseley, the journey has been one of connecting dots, satisfying her entrepreneurial upbringing, and finding the place where she can make the biggest impact.
GROWING UP IN A HOUSEHOLD OF ENTREPRENEURS
Moseley grew up in a household of entrepreneurs, watching her father run a law firm and her mother start and run an investment management firm. Her mother, Susan Moseley, was one of the first women awarded a Certified Investment Management Analyst designation from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where her daughter would earn an MBA a few decades later. Since 1990, Susan Moseley has been running Moseley Investment Management in Sarasota, Florida — “a pioneer in terms of women in the investment management space,” her daughter says.
The younger Moseley notes that her mother has been a “huge role model” throughout her life. In fact, Christine Moseley grew up fascinated by her parents’ experience with the ebb and flow of running their own businesses and “dictating their own success.”
It didn’t take long for Moseley to follow suit. After her phonebook collection, she turned her attention to music. She’d begun piano lessons with her grandmother at age 5, and she noticed something about which of her peers were taking music lessons at a young age — and more importantly who were not taking music lessons. “There are all of these wealthy people that get these expensive music lessons and yet, at the same time, it’s the haves and have-nots, no one else can afford it,” Moseley says.
Through research for a science fair, Moseley learned that musical ability and training is connected to cognitive ability and growth. Skills like personal growth, discipline, and cognitive strength, she says, can often lead to access to college and scholarships — and therefore future careers. “Music is tied to all of those things,” Moseley says. “It’s been shown to help with discipline and performance in school and later in life.”
Working with the local Boys and Girls Club in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Moseley saw the children’s eagerness to learn music. And because she had many friends willing to give free music lessons, she connected the dots and created a a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Musical Empowerment, inviting her friends to share their passion and musical knowledge with Boys and Girls Club children. Moseley remains on the nonprofit’s board.
DEMOCRATIZING HEALTHY FOOD
After completing her undergraduate degree in business from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Moseley worked for five years as a global management trainee for Maersk Group. Seeking a career switch, she enrolled in the full-time MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 2009. The degree led to Moseley’s first dabbling in the food industry — first with Cape Classics, a U.S. distributor of South African wine, and then Organic Avenue, a high-end distributor of cold-pressed juices and plant-based foods.
“They were failing,” she says of Organic Avenue, “and they just pushed out the founders and brought me in to help scale the company.”
It gave her the chance to try out an established startup before dabbling with her own. In a little over a year as the head of strategic projects and business development, Moseley learned at least two things about the food industry.
“I fell in love with the food space. It opened my eyes to how powerful food is and how it’s connected to the environment, health, the economy, and society,” she says, calling the job one of her favorites.
And second: “I loved what Organic Avenue was doing, but I was really frustrated they were selling $13 green juices,” Moseley says.
‘EVERYBODY SHOULD BE ABLE TO AFFORD A GREEN JUICE OR SALAD’
At one point, Moseley explains, she had a list of at least 10 problems she saw wrong with food supply chain. Inefficiencies. Waste. Lack of awareness and education. Insufficient access to healthy food.
“I think everybody should be able to afford a green juice or salad if they want to,” Moseley says.
The same way Moseley set out to democratize music more than a decade earlier, she now wanted to democratize healthy food.
MOVING TO AN AGRICULTURAL AND TECH HUB
Moseley packed a suitcase and moved to one of the most appropriate places in the world to disrupt the food chain — California’s Bay Area. A global tech hub filled with elite software engineers and flooded with venture capitalists, San Francisco also rests near California’s Central and Salinas valleys. The Central Valley, which spans from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south and is bordered on the east by the Sierra Nevada range and the west by the Coastal Range, is one of the most productive agricultural centers in the world, providing more than half of the U.S.’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
“The Salinas Valley is less than two hours away from San Francisco — the heart of innovation, brains, and money,” Moseley points out. “You have all of these people creating social apps and whatever apps — and I’m not judging — but, it’s like, you know, how is this happening? And why is no one working on this?”
One particular visit to a farm in the Salinas Valley — a couple hours south of San Francisco — led Moseley down the Full Harvest path.
“I was walking in knee-deep of romaine leafs that were perfectly fine. They were just being chopped off for the romaine hearts,” she says, still sounding slightly disgusted. She made a commitment that day find ways to reduce the waste.
FOOD WASTE AS THE CLEAR PROBLEM TO SOLVE
She began by learning.
“There was just starting to be a blip of viral news from France about the ugly produce trends,” Moseley says of her initial findings. “Ugly” is the term for produce not aesthetically pleasing enough to make it onto grocery store shelves.
With a clear problem to solve, Moseley spent the following months looking for other people already trying to solve the issue.
“There was no one really solving it from a large, scalable supply chain solution, and especially not with technology,” she says. So Moseley — who didn’t know many people in the Bay Area when she moved there — spent up to 100 hours each week working on a solution.
“Nothing was more important to me than trying to make this work,” she says. “Seeing those farms and all of that waste broke my heart. It just killed me.”
SOME OF THE ONLY PEOPLE IN THE WORLD SUITED TO MAKE CHANGE THROUGH BUSINESS ARE MBAs
Two years into the startup, Moseley says Full Harvest has just sold over a million pounds of produce that would have otherwise gone to waste. She is running a team of seven full-time employees and says she’s always looking for top MBA talent.
MBA students, in particular, have a unique opportunity to do good with business, she says.
“For MBA students, it’s very easy to get caught up in the investment banking and consulting worlds. But MBAs are some of the few people with the education, money, and resources to be able to do really big things in the world,” Moseley says. “And they have to view that as a huge privilege and responsibility.
“Some of the only people that have the ability to make big change and do social impact stuff or start businesses to work on some of the problems we have in this world are MBAs.”