Is ugly produce your path to food budget bliss?

Is ugly produce your path to food budget bliss?
Photos via Imperfect Produce

We all know there's a big problem with food waste. So if you're not the type to fuss too much about picking the perfect apple in the stack at the grocery store, a new food delivery service might be the solution for you AND for the environment. You may have already seen friends posting on social media about a company called Imperfect Produce, a CSA-style program that delivers just slightly bruised or weird-looking veggies to you. They're still tasty, but just not quite as pretty as you may be used to.

The company started on college campuses with the goal of reducing food waste and now spans 180 colleges and universities. The USDA estimates that 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted, which equals about 133 billion pounds and produces excess amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. So, it's a big deal and is being tackled at a few levels.

Is ugly produce your path to food budget bliss?

The thing is that most of this "ugly" produce is totally tasty and perfectly usable, it's just harder to sell. If you can embrace slightly less pretty produce, you can save a pretty penny and help out with the food waste problem. Imperfect Produce purchases this less-than-perfect produce directly from farms, reducing a lot of overhead. There's nothing wrong with the produce outside of it being oddly-shaped, surplus, or just discolored. They like to called them "cosmetically challenged."

It's no big deal when you're chopping it all up for a stew or salad. They also attempt to limit food waste in homes by offering small, medium, or large boxes with sizing guides based on household size and cooking frequency. They're even starting to sell this produce in some Whole Foods stores.

Is ugly produce your path to food budget bliss?

There are similar consumer-based apps out there, like Pareup, which connects buyers with unsold, unexpired food at a discounted price. Hungry Harvest is Maryland-based and has a similar business model to Imperfect Produce: “ugly” fruits and vegetables delivered to you.

Another startup, Cerplus, is doing it the B2B way by targeting restaurants, juice bars, and caterers to connect less pretty produce with consumers. Yet more, Copia and Zero Percent, allows restaurants and food providers to have their excess food picked and donated directly to homeless shelters. Another, WiSErg, collects food waste from retailers, grocers and commercial kitchens and turns it into fertilizer.

It's likely to be a whole new wave of attempting to save the scraps we all, consumers and businesses, waste.

Are you down to try some less-than-attractive fruits and veggies to save money and potentially the Earth? Are you already doing it?

  1. I've been using Imperfect Produce for a few months now and love it! In addition to the produce being cheaper, it forces me to meal plan a little earlier in the week so I'm less likely to give up and buy takeout. I've also tried a few vegetables that I never cooked with before (romanesco and broccoli rabe so far) because it's easier to impulse-click those little boxes than to lug stuff home from the grocery store.

    3 agree
  2. I've been meaning to sign up for one of these services. It's such a good idea!
    On a similar note, I signed up for a compost club several months ago. I live in an apartment, so DIY composting is not very feasible. The service I use provides you with a 5-gallon bucket, and someone comes to swap it out for you. Next month I will be getting some completed compost back for my container garden.

    1 agrees
  3. I buy Imperfect – and it's pretty neat. I'll say that 90% of what I've gotten is surplus and not "ugly" which is cool too.

    And I love their box customization. I basically choose what I want each time and the price is dependent on what I pick. So, sometimes I get $12 boxes, and other times I get $30 boxes. It's nice having that flexibility.

    2 agree
  4. I actually just signed up for this service even though they don't currently operate in my ZIP code. Come to my (relatively) little market, friends!

    1 agrees
  5. I just received my first Imperfect Produce box this week and am already a big fan. I am in an area where nearly everything can be delivered and I'm all for not having to grocery shop the traditional way.

  6. Awesome to see this is happening I the US, too! I live in the Netherlands and, for a few years now, were been able to buy the 'uglier' versions of fruits and veggies in one of our main supermarkets (Albert Heijn) — the produce is called 'Buiten Beentjes'. The restaurants are also starting to get on board with the reduction of food waste with programs like 'Good2Go' (check out the app). I'm looking forward to seeing a real change in the way we consume food in the coming years!

  7. I really really want this, but it's not available in my zip code. Which is BS, because I would think of all places in the US, Austin would be on board with this.

  8. My partner and another friend used Hungry Harvest and seemed to like it (since we're local to that.) This might push me to sign up for it!

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