TGW Business Spotlight: Imperfect Produce
Slight imperfections separate unsellable produce from sellable produce in grocery stores. Odd shapes, small blemishes, and other small features make produce "ugly" to some, but do these small things really make a difference in terms of taste or quality? Imperfect Produce is working to change the conversation around "ugly" fruits and use it as a way to increase the availability of produce while decreasing costs.
Where did you get the idea to sell “ugly” fruit subscription boxes?
IP: CEO Ben Simon met co-founder Ben Chesler during his work at the Food Recovery Network, which he founded while in college to reduce food waste in college cafeterias. Since its founding, the FRN has expanded to over 180 colleges and universities. During a trip to California in 2015, Ben Simon met Chief Supply Officer Ron Clark. Ron had spent decades working in the produce supply world, most recently working for the California Association of Food Banks. The CAFB had tasked him with developing Farm to Family; it's now a very successful program that sources 125 million pounds a year of "seconds" or "ugly produce" to the food banks within the state of California. Through this work, Ron had built out a supply chain of 70 to 80 California growers and has been sourcing a good amount of produce. Ben, Ben, and Ron joined forces and founded Imperfect on August 8th, 2015, with the vision of finding a home for the 6 billion pounds of ugly produce that goes to waste each year.
What kind of social impact does Imperfect Produce hope to have?
Our goals are:
- To bring affordable and healthy produce to people all over the country.
- To be a leader in the effort to reduce food waste.
- To help re-define beauty in the world of fruits and vegetables.
How do you locate/decide on the farms you work with?
In total, we work with dozens of farmers. Our supply team has longstanding relationships with farmers and growers all over California, the West coast, and beyond. They have a two-way dialog with these farmers every day to figure out what products are likely to go to waste and negotiate the logistics of sourcing them.
What’s the oddest piece of produce you’ve ever seen?
We've seen lots of wonky-looking produce such as lemons with mohawks, double squashes, and peppers that look like presidential candidates. The truth is that most of the produce that we work with looks very similar to products that you would find in a grocery store. Some of it is a little too small, curvy, or scarred to be on a supermarket shelf, but a lot of it is so "normal" looking that people are confused why it would go to waste. Working with ugly produce makes you appreciate the diversity of shapes and sizes that nature produces, but also makes you wonder why we would let tons of delicious food go to waste for being 1cm too small.
What does social good mean to Imperfect Produce?
For us, social good means building a business with generosity and sustainability woven into its DNA. We have proven that there is another way of growing and sourcing food that doesn't have to be wasteful by default. We have it in our power to feed more people with less water, fossil fuels, and land. Ultimately, social good means making a positive impact on people. We aim to positively impact farmers and families wherever we operate, making food more accessible and less wasteful by sharing the true beauty of ugly produce with the world.
What does the future hold for Imperfect Produce? Do you hope to expand to more cities/locations?
We aim to spread the love of ugly produce far and wide. We want to make healthy produce convenient and affordable for people all over California and eventually the country. We know it is within our power to feed more people in a more sustainable way and we want to be a driving force behind this transformation of our food system. We currently serve 10,000 customers shipping over 6,000 boxes a week the entire San Francisco Bay Area. We will expand and begin serving Los Angeles in early 2017.