Youth Entrepreneur of the Year 2023: Peko CEO Sang Lê has zero tolerance for food waste

Vancouver-based Peko Produce was recently acquired by Fresh Prep

Like a few others in this year’s impressive list of innovators, Sang Lê is no stranger to this magazine. Together with her co-founder Arielle Lok, Lê was a BCBusiness 30 Under 30 winner in 2022 for clamping down on food waste with Peko Produce.

Peko delivers mystery bags of “peculiar” produce (as in imperfect/surplus fruits and vegetables) that are otherwise destined for the landfill—at prices up to 40-percent cheaper than grocery stores, according to Lê. But the business of perishable food is packed with uncertainty (and sensitive reviews), so Peko quickly started facing problems with storage, refrigeration, transportation and human capital.

“It didn’t feel right to go down the route of fundraising and scaling it on our own,” Lê admits. “There was a lot of knowledge in this industry, logistics-wise, that we could benefit from mentors who have walked the walk.”

She remembers reaching out to fellow Vancouver company Fresh Prep—which makes sustainable meal kits—two weeks after launching Peko in 2021 for advice on things like inventory control. The founders stayed in touch, and after a number of conversations, in February 2023 they wrapped up a full acquisition.

“It was the best home we could’ve found for Peko,” says Lê, who notes that the move created access to 15 staff (shared between the two companies) and an in-house fleet that makes carbon-neutral deliveries. Peko also switched from recyclable cardboard to reusable packaging, and the team is considering an electric fleet for future deliveries.

The company, with 11,000 users, has come a long way from UBC students Lê and Lok asking friends to help them make deliveries. Lok now remains an operational consultant, and in two years of running Peko, CEO Lê—who also helps with Fresh Prep’s marketing projects—reports having rerouted 200,000 pounds of food from the landfill.

“I’ve had people saying, ‘Peko has changed the ways we cook,’ or ‘I feel like I’m opening a Christmas present every time a delivery comes,’ says Lê. “It’s really rewarding to hear that.”