Maybe you don’t think about how the farm-to-table food chain works and why it’s in many ways perilously short.
Maybe you don’t think about what happens to that odd-looking potato that doesn’t make it onto the produce truck. Or that shipment of strawberries that spoils in transit and never gets put on the shelf.
There’s a lot that happens on the journey that produce takes from the field to the kitchen table, but the fact that so much food ends up in landfills is a sobering fact – and a business opportunity, if you talk to former NHL player T.J. Galiardi.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projected in late 2019 that the direct economic consequences of food wastage globally was $750 billion. Almost half of that waste – 2 billion tonnes annually – is concentrated in North America.
Galiardi, co-founder of Outcast Foods, has thought deeply about the specter of food waste and what can be done about it.
“I was ready to try something new and flex some new muscles,” said Galiardi.
He was the 55th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft and he played 321 NHL regular-season games with four NHL clubs, Colorado, San Jose, Calgary and Winnipeg. His playing career ended in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia in 2017-18.
But a few years back, Galiardi, a hockey-playing vegan with a deep interest in supplements and healthy living, was doing some research in the offseason and wanted to learn more about a supplement he had come across. So he found the company’s 800 number and called.
The company’s CEO, Darren Burke, picked up. As it turned out, Burke, a Halifax-based scientist and entrepreneur, was visiting relatives in Calgary when he got the call. The two men quickly learned they had much in common and agreed to meet at a local restaurant.
Burke had been a student athlete specializing in canoe sprint, but he went on to receive a Ph.D. and become a professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Performance-enhancing supplements was among his interests.
Eventually he broke into the sports nutrition market in Canada and soon found himself with a top-10 company, Rivalus Inc. Soon enough, he started to find success in the crowded sports nutrition field in the United States.
Burke would later sell that company and when a period of non-compete was over he started looking for a new project to launch. When he and Galiardi met, they developed a friendship that morphed into a business relationship that became Outcast Foods (formerly Beyond Food).
With funding from the National Research Council (NRC), Burke and Galiardi were able to connect with researchers at Dalhousie University, University of Prince Edward Island, the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan to develop a novel way of dehydrating fruits and vegetables that exceeded their original expectations.
When they started three years ago, Burke admitted he didn’t know how much nutritional value could be retained during dehydration.
“But we’ve discovered that it’s far greater than our initial thought,” he said.
He initially thought they could retain maybe 25% of nutrients, but soon learned through research and the evolution of the dehydration process that as much as 80% of nutrients can be retained.
“We have an unbelievable opportunity here to take the main, life-giving nutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins, fibers, you name it, and introduce it back into the food supply chain,” Burke said.
The patent-pending three-step dehydration process – it has global patent protection, Burke said – can be applied to all manner of fruits and vegetables, from sweet potatoes to raspberries and bananas. It can also be used in a wide variety of products, including trail mixes, protein bars, baby food, pet food and cosmetics, Burke said.
The fact that Outcast’s products have a shelf life of two to three years is a boon to providing healthy alternatives to consumers.
Traditionally, those kinds of supplements have been produced in China and India, Burke said, and in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, he believes having locally produced, high-quality nutrients with an impeccable and easily traced production history will become increasingly important.
Galiardi and Burke and their staff – currently at 12 – have developed relationships with large farm operations in the Halifax area as well as food wholesalers and national grocery store chains to acquire surplus or unsellable fruits and vegetables. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Outcast has expanded its relationship with local farmers to try and help and reduce wastage during a time when most of the population of North America is in some form of lockdown.
In less than three years, the company has risen quickly to a place of prominence in the upcycling world. It was honored with an ‘innovator of the year’ award at the 2019 Mobius Awards created by the organization Divert Nova Scotia that recognizes companies that reduce waste in the province.
The company recently received another $3 million in funding as they prepare to move into a much larger facility in the Halifax area.
“We’re taking a natural resource that Mother Nature has nourished and grown and provided and turned it into a food source for people and animals and to benefit the planet,” Burke said.
They have already outgrown their original production facility and are preparing to start construction on a new zero waste facility with a goal of raising $6-$9 million in the next six to nine months.
When that facility is up and running, Burke said they’ll be able to increase production from around 5,000 pounds of dehydrated food product a day to upwards of 100,000 pounds in a day.
And if the letters of intent from potential clients are any indication, this new facility might not be big enough, either.
“We’re super-aggressive and we’ve pushed the envelope hard,” Burke said. “We’ve grown significantly.”
The good news? The applications for the dehydrated fruits and vegetables continue to also grow exponentially, he said.
“It’s virtually limitless what products our ingredients can end up in,” Burke said. “It’s an unlimited outbound opportunity.”
Although Galiardi’s playing days are now over, the lessons learned from the game and the relationships he forged during his career have helped him in this new career. In fact, those lessons and those relationships have become integral to making Outcast Foods viable.
“Perseverance is definitely one,” Galiardi said.
How many times was he told as a youngster that only a select few make it to the NHL and that he should focus on a goal that was more realistic?
“Probably a thousand times,” he said.
“In a startup, you’re told many times as well this isn’t going to work,” Galiardi said.
And then there are the interpersonal skills he honed over the years interacting with groups of players, coaches and managers throughout his hockey career.
“Learning how to gel,” he said. “That’s definitely helped me along the way on the business side.”
Galiardi, 31, has a daughter who is almost 2 and he and his wife are expecting their second child in July. He has been buoyed by the support he’s received from within the hockey community. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise given how important a healthy diet has become for hockey players.
Gagliardi and Burke say that 15 current and former NHL players have invested in the company.
“I kind of pinch myself at how supportive guys have been,” Galiardi said. “I want to make sure we’re good stewards of their money.”
What’s interesting is that many of the investors from within the hockey community are there not because they know Galiardi personally – although there are a number that fit that bill – but because the product and the process intrigued them.
Galiardi didn’t know Boston defenseman Torey Krug but the two are now friends as well as business associates through Outcast Foods.
Galiardi didn’t know veteran NHL defenseman Brooks Orpik, who won a Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018 before retiring at the end of last season.
But Orpik, who learned at the knee of one of the great health and diet pioneers in hockey, Gary Roberts, came on board because he believed in what the company was hoping to achieve and how they were going about it.
Orpik was introduced to Galiardi and Burke by some mutual friends and knew the landscape pretty well. After doing his own due diligence on Outcast Foods, he was impressed with the product and the business plan.
“The whole supplement industry is so saturated,” Orpik said. “So much of it is just, some of the stuff out there is just junk.”
“It was mostly the problems that they were trying to help alleviate and the quality of the product they were making,” Orpik said. “Those were the two most appealing things.”
Orpik who has been helping out at his alma mater Boston College as well as with Washington’s young defensive prospects when hockey is not on pause, has been impressed with Galiardi – even though Galiardi is a Dartmouth guy.
“All those Dartmouth guys are pretty interesting guys,” Orpik said. “He definitely fits that mold. He’s a pretty intriguing guy.”
Orpik, who also won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, lives on an organic farm outside of Boston, and Burke and Galiardi came to visit before Orpik became an investor.
Before the visit, Outcast Foods’ marketing manager sent Galiardi a video clip of Galiardi crushing Orpik into the boards from behind when Orpik was playing in Pittsburgh.
Oddly enough, that little bit of hockey trivia didn’t end up as part of the marketing pitch, although Orpik did chuckle when he learned of the clip suggesting he might just as easily have been on the other end of such an encounter.
Other NHL players involved in the company include Joe Thornton, Jason Demers, Adam Lowry and Adam McQuaid.
John-Michael Liles, a veteran of 836 NHL games, got to know Galiardi when the two were playing together in Colorado.
When Galiardi approached Liles about his new enterprise, Liles was intrigued not just in the business plan but in the overall concept of helping extend the shelf-life of foods.
“I just liked the direction of it,” said Liles, who continues to be involved with hockey by helping out with learn-to-play initiatives in Colorado and doing some color commentary on Avalanche broadcasts.
“I think there’s a huge potential for growth,” he said. “And it’s a company that’s good for the future. For me, it’s kind of one of those things, ‘Can you leave (the world) better than you found it?’ I think this is one of those things that speaks to that. It was something that definitely spoke to me and I thought it was a great idea.”
That Galiardi is so committed to this project is not a surprise to Liles.
“Gally, he’s a really driven individual,” Liles said. “He’s really passionate about it.”
Adam Burish played with Galiardi in San Jose. Both were heavily into fitness, nutrition and supplements. The two would talk often about products that Galiardi was learning about or trying and vice versa.
While Burish has his own business interests in natural health care – he is owner of a cannabidiol-based health and wellness company called BioSpectrum CBD – he was well-versed in supplements and jumped at the chance to invest in Outcast Foods.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Burish, who provides color commentary on Chicago Blackhawk broadcasts. “Their stuff is great.”
“Everything he says that’s going to happen, it does,” Burish said of the company’s evolution.
Like Orpik, Burish said there is a lot of education that needs to happen when dealing with these types of products.
“There is so much junk out there,” he said. “I saw so much junk in NHL locker rooms.”
Although Burke understands the athlete mentality given his own experience, he had his eyes opened to the very specific relationship that hockey players have with one another, exemplified by how many of them have gravitated to Outcast.
On top of that, Burke said, “they’re very well-read, very environmentally conscious, very socially concerned individuals.”
In short, as much as hockey is their livelihood, their breadth of knowledge extends far beyond the ice.
“It’s really refreshing,” Burke said.
(Photo: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images)