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article imageGreen Thumbs Up: Selling the visually unappealing to the public

By Karen Graham     Dec 27, 2015 in Environment
Emeryville - The produce aisles in most grocery stores are filled with symmetrical rows of pears, apples, squash and lettuce heads, all displayed to make the most of their perfection. But what happens to the nearly six billion pounds of produce that aren't perfect?
Today, Green Thumbs Up looks at Imperfect Produce, a unique startup in Emeryville, Calif. that takes sustainability and eco-friendly practices to new heights.
Young people today have grown up with the perception that everything they eat is perfectly shaped, like an orange or tomato, or if it is a green pepper or potato, it will always have the same distinct shape as all others of its kind. But there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that have extra lobes or look misshapen, however, they are perfectly good to eat.
Every year in the U.S. six billion pounds of rejected fruit and vegetables are wasted because they don't meet our visual standards. According to the National Resources Defense Council, this wasted produce sucks up 20 gallons of water per pound as it is growing, and releases methane gas as it rots in landfills.
Shoppers stand by the vegetables aisle inside a Fresh & Easy store in Burbank
Shoppers stand by the vegetables aisle inside a Fresh & Easy store in Burbank
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Along the way, because we reject this imperfect produce, we are doing a great disservice to the environment and harm to the food chain. For the past several years, there has been more emphasis placed on the need to cut down on wasteful practices from field to table, and many people have heard the message.
Imperfect Produce of Emeryville, California
Ben Chesler and Ben Simon are the founders of Imperfect Produce and have been working since 2011 on getting the message out to consumers about the sustainability and savings that can be seen in buying produce that looks less than perfect.
In 2011, they started the Food Recovery Network while Simon was in school at the University of Maryland. Then, they connected dining halls and cafeterias with local food banks.
“We had 150 schools saving 700,000 pounds of food, but we wanted to find the next frontier in food waste,” Chesler told Smithsonian Magazine.
After meeting up with Ron Clark, the food sourcing, and logistics manager for the California Association of Food Banks, they talked to local farmers, offering to send in crews to pick up discarded produce for 10 cents a pound. This is called, "concurrence picking." Because of the low cost of picking the produce, they figured they could sell it at least 30 percent cheaper than grocery stores, and that is just what they do.
The budding company raised funds for a warehouse, and the rest is history. “We can go across California still using the same suppliers, and now we’re looking across the country,” Chesler says. “We’re looking at produce terminals and areas where food is being wasted.”
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CBS Evening News
So how does Imperfect Produce work?
The company actually delivers the produce to your door. Right now, the delivery area includes Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, Alameda, and Emeryville, Calif. They also have public pickup sites you can sign up for, according to the website. Customers can choose from a wide range of recyclable boxes of assorted fruits and vegetables, with deliveries on Saturday only, at this time.
It is obvious the company is willing to work with its customers, based on the "Frequently asked questions." And for those interested in looking into this company, it is well worth perusing the FAQ page. “We have these perceptions with beauty, both on people and produce,” says Chesler. “I just want people to try it.” He says they will find that shape does not affect taste, and he is right about that.
Green Thumbs Up is a weekly feature that looks into ways we can live more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lives. In case you missed last week's column, please go HERE.
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