Food Cowboy is helping food distributors use their excess produce to feed the hungry—rather than feeding a landfill.

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
Credit: © Clare Barboza, "Apples of Uncommon Character"

Food waste is drawing an incredible amount of attention from both the public and the government, with recent legislative action and White House round-table discussions focussed on finding a solutions. Now, one startup is helping food distributors use their excess produce to feed the hungry—rather than feeding a landfill.

If you've read up on the issue, you'll know that a major topic is "ugly food"—goods that typical wholesalers or retailers deem too unattractive to sell. Frequently, these companies will reject produce shipments of crushed or damaged goods, which more often than not then head straight for the trash. That's where a new app called Food Cowboy comes in.

"[My brother] is a trucker and from time to time he'd have a shipment that was rejected by the receiver because the eggplants were too dark, the carrots weren't straight enough," says Food Cowboy founder Roger Gordon to CNBC. Rather than letting his brother's excess produce go to waste, Gordon would "go look for a church or a food bank." But finding a charitable organization to accept the food presented challenges. Most charities only accept donations during the day, while truckers typically unload at night.

That's when Gordon set out to create a platform that could match food distributors with nonprofits to better facilitate donations. Food Cowboy operates on an alert system, sending out notifications to its list of 400 charities when a rejected shipment is available for distribution. Food banks, shelters, pantries and kitchens can stay up-to-date on the schedule of the unloading, as well as what equipment is necessary for the transport of the food, such as refrigeration.

In addition to the pride of a good deed, those who donate their excess goods get a tax deduction for each drop-off made (a 15 percent commission on that deduction goes to Food Cowboy). And soon, "cowboy points," which can be redeemed for everything from showers to free food at truck stops, will be awarded to truckers in exchange for every donation they deliver.

Starting in fall 2016, Food Cowboy will put two-thirds of its revenue (up to $50 million a year) towards aiding hunger organizations through their Food Cowboy Foundation, which will provide funds to extend receiving hours, install coolers, and relieve the costs of receiving the shipments on the charities—making the app a win-win-win for distributors, do-gooders, and food waste activists alike.