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Innovation & Job News

Local entrepreneur and Mess Hall audience favorite gleans apples for snacks

Fruitcycle, a new startup that combines snack food with social enterprise, officially launched yesterday. Founder Elizabeth Bennett, who won the audience favorite award at Mess Hall's Launch Pad competition last weekend, can finally focus on the business full time. And Day 1 found her gleaning 200 pounds of apples from beneath six trees for her business, as well as roughly 450 pounds of other produce for the Fauquier County Food Bank.

Gleaning, or gathering what is left in the fields or orchards after a harvest, is an ages-old concept that has recently gained popularity. Gleaning forms the center of Bennett's business model: she visits an orchard and gleans apples that could not otherwise be sold to wholesalers, retailers or the public, dehydrates and spices them, and then packages the chips and sells them as a healthy snack (no fat, added sugars or artificial ingredients).

"These are apples that wouldn't be sold," Bennett says. "The orchards have to get [rid of them] anyway." In researching the concept for Fruitcycle last summer, orchard owners were in favor of the business. "They said, 'It sounds great. We have so much waste.'"

Just because the apples can't be sold doesn't mean they're inferior. "Some may have bruises, but once you cut those away, you're left with an incredibly delicious apple," she says. "I've been blown away by how amazing even the ones with bruises are--I find them a lot tastier than the apples you might buy at a regular grocery store. This does make some sense if you think about how far grocery store apples generally travel to get to you."

Bennett knows a thing or two about food and healthy snacking. She earned a Master's degree in food anthropology (yes, that's a thing) at the University of London and worked at Slow Food UK, a nonprofit that links food with community and the environment. She also spent time as the director of outreach and communications for the U.S. Healthful Food Council, a nonprofit NGO dedicated to "reducing early incidence of disease [through food consumption]," says Bennett. "The most profitable foods aren't the ones that are good for you."

Winning the audience favorite award at Launch Pad gives Bennett three months at Mess Hall to kick Fruitcycle into gear. She's excited to be in the new space for several reasons. "I'll be able to legally sell my product at retail locations and I'll have more capacity," she says. "I don't have the chopping and dehydrator space I need [right now]. I also look forward to being a part of the food community Al [Goldberg, founder of Mess Hall] is creating, and to working collaboratively."

Fruitcycle apple chips will be available in D.C. at Glen's Garden Market, Hill's Kitchen, Logan Hardware, Pleasant Pops and Sticky Fingers. They should retail for $1.99 for a one-serving bag and $6.99 for a multi-serving bag.

This article has been updated to reflect a correction to Bennett's business model, which includes paying--albeit a lower price--for the gleaned apples.

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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