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Alumnus Spotlight: J.C. Milam's Start-up Takes a Fresh Look at Sustainability

By Keith Morelli

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TAMPA (December 12, 2019) -- When you go into the grocery store for milk, do you check the expiration date? And do you fish around in the back of the shelf to get the expiration date that is a week later than the one on the jugs in the front?

Who doesn’t? But do you know what happens to all that milk that doesn’t sell by the expiration date? Or to all the food with expiration dates that isn’t sold when that date rolls around? Yup. It all get tossed, wasted, except, maybe the small percentage that may be donated to homeless shelters or soup kitchens. Studies have shown that every year, 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten, leading to 160 billion pounds of wasted food being dumped in landfills.

Cherripick is a step in that direction, offering an incentive for reaching for that the milk in the front of the shelf. It’s an app developed by a USF marketing alumnus, offering shoppers cash back for perishables that are close to expiration dates, saving them from the garbage can and needless waste.

J.C. Milam, who graduated with a marketing degree in 2004 and who just graduated from the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability with a masters’ degree in global sustainability and entrepreneurship, is a cofounder of Cherripick. He lists himself as the chief sustainability officer of the start-up that was cofounded by fellow entrepreneur Marco Ignacio, who is listed as CEO.

"When I was a kid we had to use food stamps at times to help get enough food to eat,” Milam said. “Helping others stretch their food budget is a big reason for me to help create Cherripick."

Food waste is a national problem, according to a study by the Food Law and Policy Clinic at the Harvard Law School.

“At a time when many American families are struggling to make ends meet, food waste cost the average American family of four between $1,560 and $2,275 per year,” the study said. “Meanwhile, 14 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2014. Redistributing just 30 percent of all the food lost in the United States could feed every food insecure American their total diet.”

France recently became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing grocers to donate it to charities and food banks.

Cherripick users download the app to their smart phones. Through the app, they can earn cash back for reducing food waste by purchasing items within three days of the label’s expiration date. Snap a photo of the receipt and the item with the expiration date visible, and shoppers can receive cash back on that item.

Cherripick currently offers 10 percent cashback on verified claims and is developing partnerships with participating grocery stores and brands looking to reduce their waste to offer higher cashback rates and incentives.

The company was founded in September and already has a number of shoppers nationwide.

Milam said the Cherripick still is a work in progress and negotiations are continuing with retailers for the cash back offers, but, “we will do our best to approve any claims retroactively.”

Milam has more than 15 years’ experience selling products to grocers and has insight into food waste issues affecting the broader economy and environment.

“We’ve worked in supermarkets and learned of merchandising tactics that lead to food waste, like the huge mounds of bananas on display,” said Ignacio. “So between confusion around expiration date language – best bought by, sell by and use by – and the fact that the United States spends over $218 billion on food that is never eaten, we know that grocers financially account for food waste.

“This is a problem grocers have surrendered to,” he said. “They view food waste as a fixed cost and when we prove that Cherripick can reduce this cost, reward shoppers and reduce food waste at the same time, we will have built something people not just want, but crave.

“No one loses when we reduce food waste together.”