Remember the ugly fruit and vegetables that were all the rage in France last summer? We’ll, they’re coming to America.
More to the point: They’ve actually been here this whole time — just not on most people’s plates, nor in supermarket aisles. A new Oakland-based startup calledImperfect is out to change that. Its founders, three veteran food-waste entrepreneurs, are on a mission to bring ugly produce (they prefer the term “cosmetically challenged”) to, quite literally, your doorstep.
“Our bold vision is for consumers across America to have the option of having a box of Imperfect produce delivered to them weekly, for 30 to 50 percent cheaper than [what they’ll find in] grocery stores,” said Ben Simon, Imperfect’s cofounder. Before they go national, however, the team will roll out a trial in Oakland and Berkeley in the summer of 2015, with the goal of reaching 1,000 customer households in the first six months.
Imperfect plans to bring this produce to grocery stores as well, where otherwise it would go to waste. Considering California's drought and multiple urban food deserts, this is a fantastic idea (some of this produce already goes to California food banks, too.)
The reason Imperfect can get ugly produce at such a steep discount from farmers is that otherwise those fruits and vegetables would almost certainly go to waste. As Grist has previously reported, most large supermarket chains simply won’t buy products that don’t meet certain size, diameter, consistency, and color requirements. If a field turns up “substandard” produce (which sometimes just means slightly crooked cucumbers or carrots half an inch too small), it may cost the farmer more to harvest it than he or she would make by selling the crop. As a result, roughly 7 percent of the produce that’s grown in the U.S. each year is left to rot in the fields.
“Believe me, farmers hate to see a field of perfectly good, nutritional produce go to waste,” said Ron Clark, another Imperfect cofounder and the company’s director or sourcing. Clark helped to launch California’s Farm to Family program, which buys more than 125 million pounds of “ugly” produce per year from statewide farms and distributes it to food banks. He’s behind Imperfect’s drive to partner with major supermarket chains.
“I see retail as the real game changer,” said Clark, explaining that while the CSA-style model will appeal to a “sophisticated, educated urban market of millennials,” supermarkets reach a much broader audience.
Yeah I know, it's Uber But For Fugly Produce, but this actually looks like a worthy thing to try. For things like potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and carrots (things I'd mash, chop, or dice anyway) I'd try this service, especially if it was significantly cheaper than the grocery store.
Good luck to these guys. I hope the service reaches Cincinnati sometime soon.