- Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco company that specializes in delivering cosmetically flawed fruits and vegetables directly to consumers has expanded to Chicago, reports Progressive Grocer. The e-commerce startup currently operates in the Bay Area as well as Los Angeles; Seattle; and Portland, Oregon.
- Imperfect Produce sources so-called "ugly produce" directly from farmers and offers them to consumers in the form of a subscription-box delivery service. Multiple size boxes, including small, medium, large and extra large, are available, as are various produce types, including organic, conventional, just fruits, just vegetables or a mix. Consumers have the choice of weekly or biweekly delivery.
- Prices reportedly are 30-50% lower than those found at nearby grocery stores, though customers do pay a $4.99 delivery fee.
Pushing “ugly produce” has two main benefits: It reduces food waste in the U.S., which currently costs businesses and consumers more than $200 billion annually, and it aligns companies with consumers' demands for fresh produce.
A host of grocers — among them Walmart, Hy-Vee and Raley's — have jumped on the ugly produce bandwagon, proudly displaying and discounting the misshapen items in their stores. Others — Kroger and Trader Joe’s among them — are leveraging the ugly produce movement to push their sustainability agendas of zero-waste, and bolstering their community outreach by donating the produce, which is perfectly safe to eat, to local food banks.
Whole Foods has actually partnered with Imperfect Produce to sell “ugly foods” at select locations. Stores have displays dedicated to the unusually shaped fruits and vegetables. The retailer also purchases ugly produce to use in prepared foods and at in-store juice and smoothie bars.
There seems to be plenty of ugly produce to go around for retailers and companies like Imperfect Produce. Last year, approximately 6.7 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables went unharvested or unsold by U.S. growers, according to a recent study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Economics Forum.
That amounts to one in five fruits or vegetables in the U.S. that doesn't fit grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards, according to Imperfect Produce. The company works directly with farmers to recover roughly 300,000 pounds of produce a week, saving 9.3 million pounds overall.
This sort of community-supported agriculture (CSA) model with a twist is an interesting idea that could put some pressure on grocers, and could also drum up consumer support and interest in sustainable agriculture.
But the idea remains a tough sell for most consumers, despite what they might say. According to The Harris Poll, consumers are interested in ugly produce. Nearly two-thirds of consumers (62%) said they would be at least somewhat comfortable eating flawed fruits and veggies. However, 81% of respondents said that appearance is at least somewhat important to their produce purchase decisions, and only 28% of respondents say they actually bought ugly produce last year.