30 Under 30: Sang Lê and Arielle Lok are chewing away at food waste with Peko Produce

The Vancouver-based retailer delivers boxes of fruit and vegetables to customers' doors.

Peko Produce

Sang Lê & Arielle Lok, 22 & 20

Co-founders, Peko Produce

Life Story: At age 11 in her native Vietnam, Sang Lê started a newspaper for preteens and sold it at school. Arielle Lok, who was born in Hong Kong, became a children’s rights advocate after moving to Calgary in 2010. Spending much of her time lobbying on Parliament Hill, she was part of the group that drafted Canada’s first Children’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The two met in 2020, when Lê, earning a commerce degree from UBC Sauder School of Business, was participating in the Next 36 national entrepreneurship incubator. Lok, who was studying finance at McGill University, got introduced to her by a friend in the program. Hitting it off instantly, the two began talking about food waste, which had bothered Lê since she moved from Vietnam and started cooking her own meals. “I wanted to explore the space a bit more and learned that this problem is much bigger than myself,” she says. “Food is wasted from the farm to the wholesaler all the way to the retailer and the fridge.”

Lê and Lok’s first project was a mobile app that tracked food expiry dates. But they soon shifted to imperfect or surplus fruit and vegetables, most of which gets thrown away in Canada. The result was Vancouver-based retailer Peko Produce, whose name is short for “peculiar.” Lê and Lok launched the business, which exploits inefficiencies in the food supply chain, last year by finding their first wholesale suppliers at farmers markets. Picking and packing from Lê’s basement suite at first, they met Kyle Tom of North American Produce Sales, who let Peko move into his company’s cold produce warehouse.

Bottom Line: Tackling food waste, food insecurity and rising inflation, Peko delivers 12-pound-plus boxes of fruit and vegetables to customers’ doors for $25, or as much as 40 percent off grocery store prices. The company had rescued some 100,000 pounds of produce as of April, and its patrons had saved about $350,000. During the previous 10 months, Lê and Lok received $80,000 in funding from competitions. Although they’ve had several offers from investors to help scale the business, the two are waiting until graduation to work on Peko full-time.

Looking ahead, Lê and Lok want their company to be a national player focused on sustainable groceries. For example, Lok says, a bottle of olive oil with a label facing the wrong way will typically go to waste. “It’s finding all of these different kinds of wastages when it’s perfectly good food and distributing it to people who need it the most.”