How Imperfect Foods saves perfectly good produce from going to waste

Since 2015, Imperfect Foods has made it its mission to tackle food waste and rethink the food system to work better for everyone.

The American mission-driven business rescues perfectly good ‘imperfect’ produce from being needlessly thrown away, and delivers it to people’s doors through its affordable grocery box model.

Here, CEO Philip Behn shares how Imperfect Foods saves scarred, off-spec, surplus or undervalued items to help consumers and producers reduce their food waste footprints.

How did Imperfect Foods come about, and what did you want to achieve?

Philip Behn:Imperfect was founded in 2015 with the vision of showing the world the beauty in imperfection, while creating a more economically viable food system for farmers, growers and food purveyors. Our co-founders were inspired by seeing how much perfectly good food was being thrown out in their college cafeteria, and dedicated themselves to eliminating food waste by rescuing “ugly” and surplus produce directly from farms and delivering it to customers’ homes.”

How has the company grown since you started?

PB: “As the team has grown and connected with farmers and food partners across the country, we’ve expanded our impact to help create change in other parts of our food system. By adding a full range of dairy, proteins, grains, beverages and other pantry essentials, we’re tackling other areas of waste beyond the farm and also providing customers the added benefit of skipping an extra trip to the grocery store.”

What do you hope to achieve with Imperfect Foods in the long-term?

PB: “Imperfect’s long-term goals are to always put the customer first, remain true to our commitment to the environment, and drive greater access to affordable food across the United States and the world. We saw great success when expanding the model and mission beyond produce to account for all the ways pantry and grocery items can go to waste too, so we aim to continue to seek out ways we can make a difference in cutting waste across the supply chain.”

How is Imperfect Foods contributing to the fight against food waste?

PB: “For a myriad reasons, 20 billion pounds of agricultural production does not make it to households every year. Imperfect’s food rescue model allows growers and distributors an opportunity to sell these surplus and “ugly” items instead of writing them off as a loss. This helps their bottom line, cuts down waste, and lets Imperfect pass on savings to their customers.

“Further, Imperfect is sparking a conversation around food waste in a way that is hopeful and actionable. By shining a light on the arbitrary cosmetic standards and protocols that exist in today’s food system that limit access to perfectly good food and have a negative impact on food waste and the environment, Imperfect is effectively creating a new category of produce that helps promote change.”

Why do you think so much food gets wasted?

PB: “20 billion pounds of produce from farms is unharvested or unsold each year, often because it doesn’t meet the strict cosmetic standards of grocery stores. These imperfections are often small quirks in appearance – too big, too small, too curvy, off-color – that have no impact on flavor or nutrition. Beyond fruits and veggies, when perfectly good grocery items are close to expiration or going through packaging changes, grocers won’t purchase or stock those goods. So Imperfect works with farmers, growers, and food purveyors to find a home for these ‘imperfect’ items.”

Can you summarize why reducing food waste is so important for our society?

PB: “About one third of all food that’s grown is either unharvested or left behind in the fields because the growers suspect it might not meet the specifications of their buyers. That adds up to 20 billion pounds of waste every year in the US alone. When growers sell it for feed and these other uses, this often comes at a cost, wasting their precious time and resources. Between the environmental impact of all that wasted product, as well as inefficiencies for hardworking farm partners and food producers, we need to drive that number down so we can build a better food system across the country.

“Our food system is going to need action from all sectors. There’s no silver bullet approach, but repurposing this food is one way to effect wider change.”

How much food have you saved since Imperfect Foods launched?

PB: “Since our company started in 2015, we have saved 100 million pounds of food from going to waste. This year we will save another 100 million pounds of perfectly good food. Now we are expanding our impact and reach on a national scale and into new food categories like dairy, protein and groceries. We’re on track to make our biggest positive impact on the planet thus far this year, and are excited to continue to rally people to support our mission. In addition, Imperfect Foods has donated 4 million pounds of food to our nonprofit partners and food banks across the country and is proud to continue to uphold that commitment as we grow.”

What are your tips for people who want to minimize food waste, but aren’t sure where to start?

PB: “We love educating our customers on how to use the items in their Imperfect box, and so we share tips and tricks on our newsletter, blog, and on social media, to help make reducing food waste as easy and stress-free as possible.

“That said, the best way to start to reduce food waste is to plan meals and snacks so that you only buy exactly what you need, so extra food doesn’t fall by the wayside.”

 

Read more on food loss, food waste, and how society is fighting back in the CropLife International newsletter, Plant Science Post.