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Students give life to forgotten fruits and vegetables with new snack company

Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor
Stephanie Westhelle, a current master’s student studying tourism administration in the School of Business, is one half of a team that built a health food company that repurposes overlooked, deformed fruit.

Updated: July 20, 2017 at 1:45 p.m.

An alumnus and a master’s student teamed up to take a second look at unsellable, deformed fruit through their new health food company.

Stephanie Westhelle, a current master’s student studying tourism administration in the School of Business, and alumnus Larry Gibbons started Halona Foods last month to address food waste by utilizing bruised, irregularly shaped or extra produce. The new food company will offer healthy snacks like crisps made from zucchinis, carrots and apples at local farmers markets this fall.

Gibbons, a business school alumnus who graduated in 2016, is the chief financial officer of Halona Foods and Westhelle is the chief executive officer.

The two classmates got the idea for the company last fall after seeing 80,000 pounds of apples at a farm in Maryland go to waste because of slight bruising after a hail storm, Westhelle said.

“I was just heartbroken about these farmers who work so hard and were losing so much produce just because of shape,” Westhelle said. “There’s nothing wrong with the produce.”

Halona Foods transforms produce into healthy alternatives like chips at Mess Hall, a community kitchen in the District’s Edgewood neighborhood. The company currently offers crisps, which are thin chips, in three flavors: salt and vinegar carrot, honey cran-apple and coconut zucchini crisps.

Westhelle had experience in the kitchen from her time working for a catering company and taking baking classes at a local community college when she was in high school. The recipes were born out of trial and error in the kitchen, she said.

The company will debut as a rotating vendor at the weekly Petworth Community Market this fall where they’ll sell two ounce bags of crisps for $3.99 each. Westhelle said that the company plans to expand to more local farmers markets and gourmet sandwich shops across D.C., and potentially branch out into Baltimore after they launch at the local farmers market.

“We’re really excited to hit the ground running in the fall,” she said.

Gibbons and Westhelle originally tried out their idea in the 2017 GW New Venture Competition where they finished as finalists under the name “Forgotten Fruit.”

Halona Foods sources their produce from Lancaster Farm Fresh, a cooperative of farmers in Pennsylvania who bring the produce from their farms to a centralized location to sell to restaurants and companies.

Westhelle said Halona Foods challenges the societal expectation for “perfectly cosmetic” fruits and vegetables and prevents food waste. By giving new life to fruit that would have otherwise been thrown away, the company can promote a healthy lifestyle and sustainability, she said.

The name Halona came from a word in the Zuni Native American tribe with two meanings – “happy fortune” and “a lookout place,” Westhelle said. They chose the name because of their desire to expand and keep options open to create other products in the future, she said.

“We put those two meanings together,” Westhelle said. “This is produce that is perfectly good and it is a fortune that is being left behind.”

Westhelle added that she thinks the snacks will appeal to customers because the creation of the products have an untraditional origin.

“It’s not just a regular manufactured product,” she said. “Halona provides a story.”

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:

The Hatchet incorrectly referred to Halona Foods using rejected produce. The produce is USDA grade, but it is not cosmetically perfect.

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