This story is part of londonbusinessblog.com’s Most creative people in business 2022. See the full list of innovators who made breakthroughs this year and made an impact on the world around us.
Crystal Díaz .’s grocery delivery app Produce is committed to revitalizing Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector and reclaiming its food. Although the island has a tropical climate that allows crops to grow year-round, natural disasters and economic crises have taken their toll, and Puerto Rico now imports 85% of its food. (In addition, a 1920 law requiring all imports to come through U.S. and manned ships contributes to higher prices.) Díaz co-founded PRoduce in 2018 to give both consumers and professional chefs access to thousands of locally-sourced vegetables, fruits , meat , and other goods not typically sold in supermarkets on the island, which had the most Walmart superstores per square mile in the world in 2014. Their app now has nearly 70,000 users and even delivers. Díaz, who worked in media before earning a master’s degree in food tech, also runs El Pretextothe island’s first ‘culinary farm lodge’.
The PRoduce app does more than just redeem groceries for cash. After Tropical Storm Isaias hit in 2020, it saved 10,000 plantains before they were lost. Can you tell us about the evolution of the app?
Nearly 35% of the food produced worldwide is wasted. So our problem is not food production, but food distribution. PRoduce was born with the romantic idea of connecting small producers with consumers, but we realized that we had also founded a logistics company.[The plantains] served as a case study for how we can replicate this with other products, and it doesn’t have to be an emergency. In November, this farmer called and said, “We’re going to have 3,000 cauliflower bulbs a week starting next month.” We created a cauliflower challenge on social media and I called my chef friends and said, “Can you add a cauliflower dish to your menu? Can you also share a cauliflower recipe so people can do something at home?” The cauliflower was sold out every week.
PRoduce has the widest variety of local food items in Puerto Rico. It’s also the first app to deliver anywhere, across the island. Why is it important to do both?
Literally, everywhere. We deliver to the most chic penthouse and the most remote farm. At the bed and breakfast I own in the mountains in Cayey, I wanted the food to be 100% locally sourced. Before the app, that meant seven visits to farms, cheese producers and farmers’ markets to find ingredients. This also happened to many other cooks. We have lost our connection to the people who produce our food. We need to change consumer behavior, learn [consumers] why it’s important to support local producers, not only so they can earn a good living, but also because it’s more nutritious to eat food harvested a few days ago rather than something that spent three weeks on a ship.
Puerto Rico once had an abundance of food plants – in 1930 it had about 500 species, one of the most on the planet. Can the island return to that level?
Puerto Rico has no data to help farmers decide what to grow, how much, and at what price. My next project is a food production index for the island. It will help farmers and cooks understand that if 50,000 heads of cauliflower are sold in Puerto Rico every month, but there are only two farmers on the island who have 5,000 heads of cauliflower, that’s a 45,000 chance of cauliflower. There are things that we will never produce here, such as garlic. But my dream is that farmers come to us and ask, “What should we grow?”