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Innovative venture sells ‘ugly’ produce to combat food waste: We speak to the team behind it

Going Green

Late last year we introduced you to Imperfect Produce, a venture that sells ‘wonky looking’ fruits and veggies that never get sold in supermarkets, and sells them at a 50 per cent discount. 

The company was founded by three guys and together they’ve introduced a brilliant produce subscription service that takes unwanted fruit and veg and delivers it to your door.

We wanted to know (a lot) more, so we spoke with Evan Hazelett from Imperfect Produce about this genius concept and how the service works.

Can you tell us more about why Imperfect Produce came about? Who’s behind this idea?

‘There are three cofounders of Imperfect: Ben Simon, Ben Chesler, and Ron Clark. The Bens, as we call them, previously co-founded and ran together for four years the largest student-led food waste movement in the country, Food Recovery Network (FRN). Ron spent 14 years running marketing for the San Francisco Food Bank, then seven in sourcing and logistics for the California Association of Food Banks.

‘In the fall of 2014, while out in the Bay Area for a food summit, Ben Simon was chatting with Tristram Stuart, intellectual leader on global food waste and now an advisor of Imperfect, about where he thought Ben should focus his efforts in the world of food waste should he move on from FRN. Tristram told him the farm was an enormous source of waste, and a great place to start. At the time, they were both at a gathering in a park in Berkeley with other food waste leaders. Just so happened that Ron was sitting at the end of the same picnic table, so Tristram introduced them, and the rest was history’.

Many people don’t know that a lot of produce is rejected by grocery stores because of its funny shape or size. So if not from the grocery store, where do you source your fruit and veg?

‘We source directly from farmers on the West Coast, primarily in California, though there a few in Washington and Oregon, and I saw one in Nevada recently. Our produce is extremely fresh and in season’.

Does ‘ugly’ produce taste the same?

‘Absolutely. It’s the same exact food you would have otherwise bought at the grocery store, it just didn’t meet the strict cosmetic standards of the grocery store. The most common reasons are that it’s too large, too small, slightly oddly shaped, or has some minor scarring or blemishes on the outside — none of which affect the taste, freshness, nutritiousness, or general quality of the food.

‘An orange with minor scarring on the outside is still an orange on the inside. You won’t taste the small blemish on a sweet potato once you cut it up and cook it. A odd-looking eggplant is just that — odd looking, nothing more. And sometimes, we get food that is simply deemed “surplus” — there’s just too much of it to get to market, so it would be discarded. In those cases, we’re literally getting food that would meet the cosmetic standards of supermarkets, but it’s just surplus.

‘No matter the reason, though, one of the most common responses we get is, “What is imperfect about this food? I don’t see the imperfections!” Because, most of the time, it looks just plain ordinary. Which is the saddest part’.

Right now IP is available in the California Bay Area. Is there any chance the company will grow and expand across the States and perhaps internationally?

‘In the mid- to long-term, we would love to expand around the country. Internationally! Now that’s a thought. I’m sure it’s on the radar, but I can’t imagine any time soon. There are other companies popping up around the globe right now that are following suit, though, which is wonderful!

‘I think the goal is to, first, make sure we’re providing a consistent, high-quality product to customers in the Bay Area, with wonderful added value products and customer care that people feel really good about. Once we’ve got that locked down, I’m sure we’ll start to expand around the west coast, to places like Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, I imagine, and then make the jump across the country.

‘In the short- to mid-term, we’re also looking into dairy, meat, and fish products. Though it may be hard to swallow the idea of “ugly beef”, there are cosmetic standards in every industry that lead to unnecessary waste through the discarding of perfectly good food. We are hoping to tap those markets as well’.

How can people get their hands on their own Imperfect Produce?

‘Imperfect is a subscription service with home delivery, office delivery, and pickup locations around the East Bay, soon to be in San Francisco within the month, hopefully! So, if you live within our delivery range, you can go online, sign up, and either get a box delivered to your home or office, or you can pick up right at our warehouse on Fridays and Saturdays.

‘For those outside our delivery range, until we expand to your area, you can do your best to be conscious of waste in your own life. We through away 25 per cent or more of all the food we buy in our homes. As a nation, we waste more than 40 per cent of all sources of food.

‘That’s like walking out of the grocery store with one bag of food on each shoulder, one a little larger than the other, and simply dropping the smaller bag — every time you go to the grocery store!

‘The EPA just released a report stating that, if we were to cut food waste down by 30 per cent, we could feed every hungry American. It’s a repulsive amount of waste, but one we can begin to tackle in our own lives. We don’t have to wait for sweeping policy reform, though we need that too. It’s like casting your vote. If everyone participates, we’ll see real change’.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, sign up for your own Imperfect Produce subscription here. Don’t forget to follow the IP team online for updates, too.

These potatoes need a loving home. Please contact www.imperfectproduce.com for adoption details. #imperfectluv #foodwaste #uglyveg #uglyfruitandveg #organic #local #vegan #vegetarian #SF

A photo posted by Imperfect Produce (@imperfectfruit) on

Turn(it)ip this weekend! 📷: @rsalee #uglyfruitandveg #uglyfruit #uglyveg #eatlocal #local #vegan #veg #foodwaste #foodpuns #imperfetluv #organic #partytime

A photo posted by Imperfect Produce (@imperfectfruit) on

Thanks to @izzythatfruitbat for a most delicious display of this weeks box of Imperfect love! Help yourself and others this #holiday season. New customers use the code GIVEPRODUCE and we ll donate an extra box of produce to the Alameda County food bank! Existing customers order some swag (stickers shirts or bags) and we ll also donate a box. Because the #gift of health is #priceless Imperfectproduce.com #vegan #vegansofig #plantbased #plantstrong #plantpower #fruit #vegetarian #vegetable #raw #rawvegan #rawveganism #healthy #healthychoices #smart #fresh #local #organic #veganfoodshare #urban #farm #sustainable #csa #uglyproduce #uglyfruitandveg

A photo posted by Imperfect Produce (@imperfectfruit) on

Look at them pink ladies! Standing by for new homes and meals and bellies…! Thank you to our Imperfect family for all of your support. Over 1000 boxes set for delivery this week! You made this happen 🙂 #uglyproduce #uglyfruitandveg #vegan #vegansofig #plantbased #plantstrong #plantpower #fruit #vegetarian #vegetable #raw #rawvegan #rawveganism #healthy #healthychoices #smart #fastfood #fresh #local #farmersmarket #veganfoodshare #urban #farm #oakland #berkeley

A photo posted by Imperfect Produce (@imperfectfruit) on

Imperfect team member Evan with the biggest yam we ve had in house to date. #yowzayam! @uglyfruitandveg #uglyfruitandveg #uglyproduce #uglyfoodfriday #vegan #vegansofig #plantbased #plantstrong #plantpower #fruit #vegetarian #vegetable #raw #rawvegan #rawveganism #healthychoices #smart #fastfood #fresh #local #organic #farmersmarket #veganfoodshare #urban #farm #sustainable #csa

A photo posted by Imperfect Produce (@imperfectfruit) on

This week s favorite mixed fruit and vegetable box all for 12 dollars! Perfect for the #thanksgiving and #holiday meals! So what s cookin? #cookingugly #uglyfoodfriday #uglyfruitandveg #uglyproduce #vegan #vegansofig #plantbased #plantstrong #plantpower #fruit #vegetarian #vegetable #raw #rawvegan #rawveganism #healthy #healthychoices #smart #fastfood #fresh #local #organic #farmersmarket #grocery #veganfoodshare #farm #sustainable #csa

A photo posted by Imperfect Produce (@imperfectfruit) on

We re FALLIN for this weeks box which is the best yet! Zucchini, acorn squash, tomatoes, romaine, oranges, persimmons and more. All just for $12? Yep, it’s a lucky #happyfridaythe13th #uglyfoodfriday #uglyproduce #uglyfruitandveg #vegan #vegansofig #plantbased #plantstrong #plantpower #fruit #vegetarian #vegetable #raw #rawvegan #rawveganism #healthy #healthychoices #fresh #local #farmersmarket #grocery #veganfoodshare #urban #farm #sustainable #csa

A photo posted by Imperfect Produce (@imperfectfruit) on

About the author

Rachel Oakley is an Aussie writer based in NYC with an obsession for the creepy, cool and quirky side of life. Some of her main passions include philosophy, art, travel, and sarcasm.

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