The United States wastes 80 billion pounds of food every year.
That number would be 55,000 pounds higher if it weren’t for Will Gray and his Richmond-based Bloody Mary blending company, Back Pocket Provisions.
With booming sales of its local line of blends, Gray predicts this year that 27.5 tons of fresh produce from surrounding farms will get a second life as ingredients in cocktail concoctions. Having spent half his life working on farms and the other half in restaurants, Gray was acutely aware of the pounds of produce that are wasted every year for frivolous reasons.
“Working in the restaurant business, I used to hear farmers tell me all the time that they would still have 25% of their crop that they couldn’t get to market and that they would have a hard time canning it all, transform and use on their own,” says Gray. . “Stores want something green or red so they can move products through the supply chain to be ripe later, closer to the point of sale. But we want our vegetables to be as ripe as possible so that we can process them into delicious juice.
Operating out of Hatch Kitchen on Southside, Back Pocket Provisions produces 7,500 gallons of Blood Mary mix each year, enough juice for over 160,000 Bloody Marys. This year will be Gray’s third year operating from the Swansboro food incubator which will expand to a new food hall in Manchester later this year. In his seven years as CEO of this local company, Gray has expanded his offering beyond his signature Bloody Mary blend to include three other flavors pushing the boundaries of this beloved brunch drink.
Back Pocket Provisions’ flagship flavor, the Bloody Brilliant, offers the classic combo of all the local tomatoes, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of cayenne pepper to give it a bright, salty punch. Perhaps Gray’s most experimental blend is Bloody Bangkok – a Southeast Asian-inspired variety that draws on red chili peppers, lemongrass, galangal root (a cousin of ginger) and fish sauce as a substitute for Worcestershire to create the balance between sweet, salty and sour. , and tasty as Thai cuisine thrives.
While both of these varieties include animal products via fish sauce and anchovies in Worcestershire, Gray also wanted to offer customers two vegan Bloody Mary mix options. “When I started in this business, I didn’t know the plight of the vegetarian Bloody Mary lover,” he recalls. “Most of the mixes you find aren’t suitable for vegetarians, so it’s fun to make them without any animal products.”
With fresh garlic, organic sweet corn, local green chiles and jalapeños, cumin and paprika, Bloody Baja turns southwest to deliver a smoky, savory flavor that pairs perfectly with tequila. for a “Bloody Maria” or with a Mexican beer for a michelada. The latest creation from Back Pocket Provisions is the Bloody Blue Ridge, an extra spicy variety full of fresh habaneros, sorghum molasses, miso and tamari that mixes dark sweetness with tongue-in-cheek warmth.
For Bloody Mary enthusiasts looking to help Gray on his mission to “make life more delicious, honest, healthy and fun while helping small farmers,” Back Pocket Provisions products are available at 35 retailers across the city. Market at 25, grocery stores at Stella, Ellwood Thompson, Outpost, and Libbie Market are just a fraction of the locations — Union Market even has its Bloody Brilliant variety at the bar. If you get a Bloody Mary from Cirrus Vodka or Virago Spirits, the mix will also come from Back Pocket Provisions.
When Gray first launched this social enterprise seven years ago, he could never have imagined the success he would have in convincing Virginians to drink locally grown vegetables and help create a market for them. tons of fresh produce that farmers would otherwise have to let go. for a lack of aesthetic appeal.
While Back Pocket Provisions’ mission might seem noble when framed in the fight against food waste, Gray doesn’t take its “tailor-made veggie juice” too seriously.
“In the middle of harvest season, there are definitely days when I look around and think, ‘What am I going to do with all this tomato juice?!'”