Online Exclusives

A Wash with Opportunity

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | February 16, 2011

Grow Green Industries-maker of Eat Cleaner fruit and veggie wash-has a lot on its plate these days. Since its launch in 2009, this start-up firm has expanded its distribution to major supermarket chains and is now gearing up for its QVC debut, all as it looks to grow commercial business, too.

For Mareya Ibrahim, cleaning fresh fruit and vegetables with running water is risky business. And she wants more Americans to think that way too.

According to Ibrahim and other experts, fresh produce can be downright dirty. There are more than 78 million reported cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. every year. What’s more, there’s an average of 30 different pesticides used on the produce consumers eat.By the time food reaches the plate, most of it has been touched by 20 sets of hands. And then there’s surface debris that can carry bacteria from seafood and poultry (think about that head of lettuce sitting next to that package of uncooked chicken in the grocery cart).

As the co-founder of Grow Green Industries, Ibrahim offers way to combat those issues: Eat Cleaner All Natural Fruit and Vegetable Wash. Made with FDA-approved ingredients, it is billed as an all-natural, odorless and tasteless food wash that removes pesticides, waxes and surface debris that can carry bacteria from produce, seafood and poultry.

 
The Eat Cleaner lineup.
Formulated by her father, Colorado State University emeritus professor Dr. Shawki Ibrahim, a Ph.D. in environmental science who also holds a Master’s in microbiology and B.S. in agriculture, in response to concerns over growing E-coli and salmonella scares, pesticide and produce exposure, Eat Cleaner decreases foodborne illnesses on fresh fruits and vegetables more effectively than water alone. It relies on a proprietary blend of fruit acids and plant-based cleaners to strip surface waxes, debris and pesticides away that water is unable to penetrate.

But Grow Green isn’t alone in the produce wash category, nor was it first to market. Brands such as market-leading Beaumont Products’ Veggie Produce Rinse and Environne are also on store shelves, and P&G was once in the space with Fit, a brand it launched in 2000. Today, Fit is sold by HealthPro, which acquired the brand for $6 million in 2006.

Wipes sales are growing at Grow Green Industries.
Yet, when Ibrahim began to pitch her company’s wash in 2009, she said some retailers were leery; they told her consumers didn’t really latch on to fruit and vegetable washes in the past.

“But I tell them, this is a different time and different place,” Ibrahim said, noting that today’s consumers are much more in tune with organic/natural foods and try to live “cleaner” lifestyles—and stories of food contamination have made headlines in recent years.

Produce wash is a small category, but sales are up even in this down economy. According to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, sales of produce rinse for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 23, 2010 rose an impressive 13.17% to $3.48 million in supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers (excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/convenience stores), with unit sales up 13.31%.

Ibrahim’s wish is for consumers to incorporate Eat Cleaner products into their daily routines—something that they’ve already done with hand sanitizer. And the company is in tune with making its products fit into their regimens. For example it offers Eat Cleaner Biodegradable Wipes in travel packs, which makes it more convenient for busy consumers to clean fruit on the fly.

The Other Kind of Green


Yet, a cleaner salad is just one chapter in the Eat Cleaner story. Grow Green Industries is also talking up another benefit of the product: extending shelf life. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans thrown away nearly 31.6 million tons of food every year, the majority being perishables like fresh fruit and veggies. All those uneaten berries and limp stalks of broccoli add up; a University of Arizona study found that the average family tosses out 1.28 pounds of food a day, equivalent to roughly $600 a year.

But in a recent 14-day shelf life study overseen by Dr. Shawki Ibrahim, the company’s chief science advisor, Eat Cleaner Fruit + Vegetable Wash prevented discoloration, mold, bacteria and decay on an assortment of fruit and vegetables, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, micro greens, spinach, tomatoes, grapes and mushrooms, the company said. By using one bottle of Eat Cleaner each month, Grow Green contends consumers can reduce their waste by almost half, for a savings of roughly $300 per year.

That’s a message price-conscious consumers will like, and more of them may get the chance to hear it as Eat Cleaner has been selected by QVC. The segment aired on March 6.

A spot on the TV marketplace powerhouse is clearly a big step for this start up, which has also earned accolades from Disney’s iParenting.com.

Ibrahim, who was a named finalist by Inc. magazine’s in its 2009 “Newpreneur of the Year” contest, is always looking for new opportunities. Next up is a stop at the WBT Innovation Marketplace, scheduled for March 22-23 in Arlington, TX. At the two-day event, the Ibrahims will talk up Eat Clean technology to potential licensors and investors alike. Since its inception in 2002, WBT presenters have received more than $490 million in early and seed stage funding and licensing.

In addition, Grow Green is testing Eat Cleaner with food service firms, produce growers and packers, hoping to expand with commercial-ready formulations sometime in the second quarter of the year, according to Ibrahim.

The market does seem to be ripe for Grow Green. Since Eat Cleaner debuted in 2009, the brand has been picked up by Wegmans, Whole Foods, Ralphs and Stater Bros as well as a large number of independent food stores. It is also offered by online sellers including Amazon.com and Alice.com, and is sold at the Grow Green website, www.eatcleaner.com “We are still very much a start-up, but we are very passionate about what we are doing,” Ibrahim told Happi. “We know it is only a matter of time when we get to the tipping point.”

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