When was the last time you threw out a piece of fruit or a vegetable because it was bruised or looking a bit sad and deflated at the bottom of your fridge? Turns out, Australians waste around 7.3 million tonnes of edible food each year.
This includes fruits and vegetables that don’t even leave the farm because their appearance is deemed ‘undesirable’ to consumers.
Mary Bocarro and Janelle Sullivan are two Curtin alumna who’ve made it their mission to transform fruit from ‘wasteful to tasteful’ through The Mango Project – a social start-up that takes second-grade mangoes destined for landfill and repurposes them into organic skincare products.
“The idea is to create natural Australian skincare from natural ingredients and connect people back to the land they live on, themselves and each other,” says Bocarro.
The Mango Project currently stocks two products, a facial moisturiser and a body oil, which are jam-packed with ingredients whose names you can actually pronounce. But the hero is mango oil, which is extracted from the mango kernel and contains skin-loving vitamins A, C and E, as well as omegas and stearic acid.
The idea to use oil from second-grade mangoes came to Bocarro and Sullivan after Bocarro returned from the Stanford International Honors Program, which she attended while studying a commerce degree in marketing and advertising.
“The program was one of the best parts of my degree and it played a big part in what started The Mango Project. To be surrounded by so many inspiring people … I came back all fired up and wanting to start a business that made a difference,” she says.
“I caught up with Janelle, who told me about her family’s mango plantation in Carnarvon and how many mangoes go to waste, and it started from there.”
Sullivan says that 60% of an annual mango harvest can end up in landfill rather than in packing crates.
“There are a number of reasons why mangoes might not make the grade for supermarkets,” she explains.
“One of the main things is sunburn, which starts off as a red blush on the mango’s skin but can end up as a black spot about the size of a 50-cent piece.
“Another thing is tiny marks on the fruit caused by rain and wind. But all these things are only skin deep – the mango itself is fine to eat.”
A sweet plan is hatched
With an obvious problem and the drive to solve it, in 2019 the two women brought 300 kg of mangoes from Carnarvon to Perth, before painstakingly extracting oil from every kernel, only to end up with a tiny amount of oil and a very sticky house.
They now source their mango oil from India, as there are no seed processing facilities in Australia, yet.
“We did a lot of research into mango plantations in India, and chose suppliers that aligned with our values and needs,” says Bocarro.
“A long-term goal for the business is to start Australia’s first mango-oil processing plant here in WA.”
While the oil comes from India, the products are made in Queensland and are designed and packaged in their living rooms in Perth (Sullivan says she has very patient housemates).
In addition to repurposing 100% of second-grade mangoes from their supplier in India, Sullivan has been educating people about fruit quality in WA. Before COVID-19 hit, she sold her family’s second-grade mangoes at farmers markets in Perth and regional cities like Albany and Bunbury, to show that while the fruit may not look perfect, it’s perfectly edible.
“I’ve had customers come back to the markets asking for more, which is great, because as a farmer you often only get negative feedback about your fruit being rejected. So it’s rewarding to see that many people actually don’t care what fruit looks like on the outside.
“Through consumer education, we’ve prevented 15,000 mangoes from being wasted.”
Bocarro and Sullivan join a growing list of Curtin alumni who’ve started businesses that transform waste into new products. Fashion Design grad Kate Hannah upcycles old clothes through her brand P’JUNK, and Food Science and Technology grads Anthea Rodoreda and Andrew Tilly produce Gelavo, a dairy-free ice-cream made from second-grade avocadoes.
At their core, these enterprises aim to raise awareness about the impact of our consumption on the environment, communities and our collective futures.
“To see what’s happening in the world with climate change and the amount of waste produced, it’s become crucial for people to take a more sustainable approach to consumption,” reflects Bocarro.
“Especially when it comes to cosmetics and fashion. People are starting to really think about the wider effects of their purchases.”
Early fruits of labour
Launching skincare products into a saturated cosmetics market may seem risky, but Bocarro and Sullivan have honed their business skills through their Curtin studies and activities. As well as being selected for the Stanford program, Bocarro was involved in student-run entrepreneurial clubs and even launched the Women in Business club.
Sullivan graduated with a Communications degree in 2019 and is now studying a Master of International Business and Entrepreneurship, where some of her course coordinators have matched the curriculum to The Mango Project.
“Every unit I’ve done has been relevant to the business. I did a digital marketing intensive unit over the summer and learned about all the things on our website that we were doing wrong!
“So I’ve found the content incredibly valuable, because I’m learning it alongside doing it in real life.”
Both women say that what brought their idea to fruition was “just doing it”, and remaining resilient through setbacks.
“Something I learned at Stanford was ‘fail often to succeed sooner’. You’ll make mistakes but you’ll learn from them and move on,” advises Bocarro.
The Mango Project only launched in December last year, but the two entrepreneurs are already building a loyal customer following.
“Seeing our first orders go through really made me feel like what we were doing was a good idea, and it wasn’t just us who thought so!” says Bocarro.
“To get feedback that our products work and to get return customers has been really rewarding.”
“Speaking with farmers in India who say that this is something they’ve always wanted to do, and are inspired by us, has been very empowering,” adds Sullivan.
“I wanted to make an impact, and thought I could help make a difference to the environment, but I didn’t imagine how I would make an impact on other people.”
The duo will be showcasing The Mango Project at the EveryWoman Expo in March, where they’ll also be launching two new products.