Innovations That Inspire

BrightSide Produce San Diego

Recognition Year(s): 2021
School: Fowler College of Business, San Diego State University
Location: United States

BrightSide Produce enables students to apply business practices to a social venture that increases access to fresh produce in communities where residents experience food insecurity. 

Call to Action

BrightSide Produce was developed as a direct response to two needs: a need for an innovative pedagogical methodology that could elevate the student experience while preparing students for the workplace, and a need to develop a solution to a pressing issue affecting communities nationwide—food insecurity.

BrightSide Produce (BrightSide) provides students with valuable hands-on experience running a distribution business that operates as a nonprofit and works with retailers to introduce, manage, and grow a new product category (i.e., produce) to meet the needs of the local community. BrightSide not only contributes to positive societal impact, but it also addresses the problem at its core. It has implemented a solution that brings about social change that is attainable, sustainable, and scalable so the situation is permanently improved for the communities it serves.

This social change is driven by students who are involved in a transformational experience that fosters an appreciation for community needs and motivates innovative thinking to address them. Students learn that they have the power to change systems and change lives.

BrightSide Produce is recognized in San Diego as an experienced and established organization committed to improving food access, reducing food waste, and ending hunger. It has established relationships and partnerships with retailers and produce wholesalers, key for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and county and city governments. It bridges academia and the public and private sectors to develop solutions to meet community needs while creating learning and training opportunities for students and generating new knowledge and research.


BrightSide Produce is a business that is operated by undergraduate and graduate students at San Diego State University (SDSU). The students are responsible for all business functions and operations, including buying, sales, marketing, accounting, and more. The business has three distinct and important components.

First, BrightSide’s produce distribution service increases produce accessibility, availability, and affordability in underserved communities by working with small food, corner, and liquor stores already located within and serving the communities. Its produce distribution service was designed to directly address the challenges that prevent these stores from successfully carrying fresh produce. BrightSide distributes produce to stores weekly and manages the produce category for storeowners by tracking inventory, spoilage and sales, determining order amounts, recommending pricing that is profitable for the stores and affordable for customers, merchandising the produce, and providing store owners with a risk-free buyback program.

Second, BrightSide is committed to increasing access to affordable fresh produce on college campuses, where students are experiencing food insecurity. BrightSide makes produce available on the SDSU campus through produce sales programs and donations, and on the Imperial Valley College campus through deliveries of pre-packaged bags of produce for distribution to students experiencing food and housing insecurities.

Third, BrightSide is committed to reducing food waste. BrightSide is a zero-food-waste operation that engages in source reduction, produce rescue and donation, and composting.

Each semester, students join the BrightSide Produce team and earn valuable hands-on experience running a business, working in the functional area of their choice, and applying their business knowledge in a real-world situation.


BrightSide’s produce distribution service has grown from five stores in June 2017 to 18 stores that have a combined reach of thousands of customers weekly. BrightSide delivered more than 239,000 units of produce to stores from 2017 to 2020. Now that BrightSide delivers to 13 stores in National City, California, all of National City's 61,000 residents have access to fresh produce within a half-mile of their homes.

BrightSide increases access to produce on college campuses through sales and donations. Between 2018 and 2020, BrightSide sold or donated thousands of units of produce to members of the SDSU campus community and delivered 37,200 units of produce to Imperial Valley College.

As for its impact in food waste reduction, between 2018 and 2020, BrightSide rescued approximately 17,500 pounds of produce from stores and donated or composted it. The San Diego Food Systems Alliance recognized BrightSide for food waste reduction efforts in 2017 and 2018.

The student learning impact has also been significant. Between 2016 and 2020, 111 students spent an average of five months participating in BrightSide Produce activities, either through independent study, research, internship, or volunteer experiences; a Special Topics course; or the BrightSide Produce Internship Program. One student remarked of the program, “I chose to work at BrightSide because I like knowing that what we’re doing is having a tangible impact on the communities we serve.” Importantly, BrightSide’s impact continues to grow. It provides services and opportunities for student involvement year-round.

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