This story is part fast business The Most Creative People in Business 2022. Check out the full list of innovators who broke through this year and impacted the world around us.
Crystal Díaz’s Grocery Delivery App Produce strives to revive Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector and recover its eating habits. Although the island has a tropical climate where crops can grow year-round, natural disasters and economic crises have all taken their toll, and now Puerto Rico imports 85% of its food. (Additionally, a 1920 law requiring all imports to go through American-owned, crewed ships is contributing to the price hike.), and other products not typically sold in island grocery stores, which in 2014 boasted the most Walmart-owned supermarkets per square mile in the world. Their app now has nearly 70,000 users and even delivers. Díaz, who worked in the media before earning a master’s degree in food technology, also directs The pretextthe island’s first “culinary farm lodge”.
The PRoduce app does more than just make it easier to redeem groceries for cash. After Tropical Storm Isaias hit in 2020, it saved 10,000 plantains before they went to waste. Can you talk about the evolution of the application?
Almost 35% of the food produced in the world is wasted. So our problem is not food production, it’s food distribution. PRoduce was born with this romantic idea of connecting small producers to consumers, but we realized that we had also created a logistics company.[The plantains] served as a case study of 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 heads of cauliflower a week starting next month.” We created a cauliflower challenge on social media, and I called up my chef friends and said, “Can you add a cauliflower dish to your menu? Also, can you share a cauliflower recipe so people can make something at home? » Cauliflower sold weekly.
PRoduce offers the widest variety of local food products in Puerto Rico. It is also the first application that delivers anywhere, all over the island. Why is it important to do both?
Literally anywhere. We deliver to the fanciest penthouse and the most remote farmhouse. At the bed and breakfast I own in the mountains in Cayey, I wanted the food to be 100% local. Before the app, that meant making seven visits to farms, cheese shops and farmers’ markets to source ingredients. This also happened with many other chefs. We have lost our connection with the people who produce our food. We need to change consumer behavior, teach [consumers] why it’s important to support local producers, not only so they can make a good living, but also because it’s more nutritious to eat food harvested a few days ago instead of something that passed three weeks on a boat.
Puerto Rico once had an abundance of food plants – in 1930 it had about 500 species, among the most numerous on the planet. Can the island return to this level?
Puerto Rico lacks data that can help farmers decide what to grow, how much, and at what cost. My next project is a food production index for the island. This will help farmers and chefs understand that if 50,000 heads of cauliflower are sold each month in Puerto Rico, but there are only two farmers on the island growing 5,000 heads, that is a opportunity for 45,000 heads of cauliflower. There are things we will never produce here, like garlic. But my dream is that farmers come to us and ask us, “What should we grow?