Wandering through the supermarket produce section among piles of glistening lettuces, shiny apples, and bruise-free peaches, it’s easy to feel wrapped in a sense of abundance and luxury. Unfortunately, behind all that deliciousness is an incredible amount of waste: At least 1 in 5 fruits and veggies never even make it off the farm, because they’re just not pretty enough. Enter Imperfect Produce, which recently launched in Chicago and brings those almost-perfect items to consumers at a discount.
“I was caught off-guard by talking to farmers and meeting them,” says Imperfect Produce co-founder Ben Simon. “They’ve honestly grown used to all this product going to waste because of grocery store standards.” The reason your local store’s produce looks so perfect is because grocery stores simply won’t buy anything that doesn’t look just right—even if it tastes just fine. A small portion of this “imperfect” produce gets processed, but a lot of it gets thrown away.
Imperfect Produce works on a subscription model. Every week or two, subscribers get a box of assorted produce, and the company’s goal is to sell that produce (which they “rescue” from approximately 150 different farms) between 30 and 50 percent cheaper than you’d pay at the grocery store. The produce gets used, the consumer gets a good deal—everybody wins. “We don’t sell bruised or damaged product,” says Simon. “It’s just as healthy. It’s got the same shelf life, no bruising. Some of the deviations are super small.” So small that in a recent box, I couldn’t tell why most of the products were even included, that’s how good they looked.
There is a whole range of different boxes to choose from, starting for about $11 for a small box (7 to 8 pounds) and going up to 20 pounds of organic produce for $40. Kind of like a farm share, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get in a given week. Unlike a farm share, though, you’re not going to be inundated with 20 pounds of squash at a time. Imperfect Produce aims for balance, and allows customers to customize their box and eliminate foods that they don’t like. Customers can also choose delivery every week or stick with every other week, if they’re not sure they’ll use everything. But even if you don’t, you’re still getting a good deal—and helping less produce go to waste.