Milwaukee-based social enterprise Blue Mangoes LLC rebranded as Agricycle Global and plans to launch three new products in 2020.
College engineering student Joshua Shefner launched the startup in 2017 by engineering and building solar dehydrators in Jamaica so local women could dry surplus tropical fruits. The company has since expanded its operations to six other developing countries and hired field employees to train others how to build and use the dehydrators. Agricycle then packages, markets and sells the dried fruits in the U.S. as a fair trade product.
Over the summer, Agricycle took part in a 15-week Target Incubator, which is where the company rebranded to better reflect its mission to provide sustainable products while empowering women and farmers.
“The main thing is that Agricycle represents a much bigger vision for us,” Shefner said. “We’re a vertically integrated supply chain from tree to shelf.”
The company’s dried fruit product was also rebranded to Jali Fruit Co. “Jali” means an African historian or storyteller – customers who purchase dried fruit will find a QR code on each bag that traces it back to the exact cooperative that dried it, Shefner said.
“You learn the story of the women who dried it and the farmers who grew it and the farm that it came from,” Shefner said.
Agricycle plans to launch three new products in 2020 after a $1.5 million funding round, which closed early at $350,000. The new products include Jali Fruit Co. dried fruit, fruit-based and gluten-free flour called “What the Fruit” and Tropical Ignition, a fruit-based charcoal.
Agricycle also plans to hire more full-time employees as the company jumps into retail and e-commerce to distribute its products, Shefner said.
“We also have a network of 35,000 farmers right now in east and west Africa and the Caribbean,” Shefner said. “That’s allowing us to get our first 40-foot container loads to the United States so we can start those sales.”
Agricycle manufacturers its dehydrators in Elkhorn before exporting them to one of six countries in Africa and in the Caribbean. Farmers then purchase the dehydrators and in exchange, Agricycle purchases their fruit.
The company works with a number of cooperatives led by women who are responsible for drying the fruit, Shefner said.
“The women who work with us make seven-times more than the average daily wage,” Shefner said. “They’ve never had a bank account; we give them a bank account and establish their credit history. We train them, teach them how to meet international food safety standards, that’s our mission.”