Howard County-based Hungry Harvest to appear on 'Shark Tank'

Will Columbia-based Hungry Harvest get an investment from "Shark Tank"?

We'll soon find out whether the investors on ABC reality show "Shark Tank" want to bite on Maryland company Hungry Harvest.

In an episode scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Jan. 8, the sharks will hear a pitch from Pikesville native Evan Lutz, CEO and co-founder of Hungry Harvest, which collects and sells "ugly produce" — food that would normally be thrown out for various reasons. The company, founded in May 2014, delivers food weekly to subscribers. For every delivery, Hungry Harvest donates food to needy individuals.

"We really emphasized the 'ugly produce' aspect of [the business], as well as how we donate produce to someone in need," said Lutz, 23, a University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business graduate who lives in Federal Hill. "The producers thought that really stood out — the recovery and donation aspect."

Hungry Harvest, co-founded by fellow Maryland alum John Zamora, is headquartered at the Conscious Venture Lab, a business incubator in Columbia. The produce sold is mostly provided by farms and other suppliers in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The "Shark Tank" appearance been almost a yearlong process for Lutz. He said "Shark Tank" producers reached out to him in February to see if he was interested in applying. Though focused on running the young business, he decided to fill out the 40-page application, go through several interviews and call backs and make a video application (a portion of which can be found on YouTube).

Lutz was flown to California to tape the episode in June, he said. He found out just last week when his episode is scheduled to air. He said that when he was informed of the air date while he was in the middle of writing Christmas cards to his customers, he "screamed" with excitement.

Lutz said that he will host a viewing party for the show at Hungry Harvest headquarters, and plans to invite family, friends and other Maryland businesses — even Gov. Larry Hogan and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank — to attend.

"We were waiting for this day for six months," said Lutz. "It was so hard keeping it a secret."

Lutz, who has been a longtime fan of the show, which features entreprenuers pitching business ideas to a panel of investors, said he prepared for the appearance by — what else? — rewatching past episodes.

"Leading up to the taping of the episode, I watched every single 'Shark Tank' [episode] I could find that I hadn't seen," he said.

He said he also memorized a 13-page, single-spaced document that included "every single question" the sharks could ask. Lutz didn't want to mispronounce any names. He didn't want to stutter or appear nervous. And while he said he was calm during the pitch, the nerves go to him a bit right as the taping began.

"I won't lie, I wasn't nervous until five minutes before," he said. "I was in the prep room ... and the way it works is that the doors open and you hear a countdown, '10, 9...' . My heart was pounding in my chest."

Lutz said that during his pitch, he asked for a $50,000 investment for 5 percent of the company. He said he cannot reveal if there were counteroffers or if he accepted any offer. The sharks on the episode are Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Barbara Corcoran, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O'Leary.

Lutz said the plans for the investment, if it is received, will go to marketing efforts, to expand the company's consumer base and to "appeal to a wider variety of costumer" he said.

Cost for boxes of produce range from $15 to $55 a week, with all-fruit and organic options. Most of the produce is given "seconds" or "surplus" status because of cosmetic imperfections such as irregular shape and size, but also because supply at a vendor outweighs its demand, according to Hungry Harvest's website. Lutz said that Hungry Harvest has recovered 300,000 pounds of produce to date and delivered 100,000 pounds to those in need.

Hungry Harvest differs from many companies that appear on "Shark Tank," which returns with new episodes on Jan. 5 and has won the Emmy for best structured reality show for the past two years. The majority of the show's pitches involve niche products, such as body-shaping clothing or specialty kids' place mats, as well as new twists on products already familiar to consumers (think energy bars or solar-powered lights).

Lutz said he was surprised a business like Hungry Harvest will be featured on the show.

"I remember right after we started, and we were at a cocktail party and someone said, 'So when are you going to be on 'Shark Tank'?' he said. "I just kind of laughed."

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