20 billion pounds of fruits and veggies go to waste on farms every year, oftentimes because they don't live up to the cosmetic standards of grocery stores. Imperfect Produce is here to change that.
We interviewed CEO + Co-founder Ben Simon and you can read the full interview below.
SK: What is your company’s guiding purpose?
BS: We’re here to eliminate food waste and build a better food system for everyone. In less than four years, we’ve saved over 40 million pounds of produce from going to waste and we’ve donated over 2 million pounds of produce to our food bank and non profit partners. We also offer a reduced cost box for low-income customers that are eligible for SNAP/EBT. We now have over 10,000 low-income households on that program and we can’t wait to see it grow even more.
SK: What makes your brand unique?
BS: We’re not just trying to sell groceries, we’re trying to change the food system. By selling the ugly and surplus fruits and vegetables that have been overlooked and undervalued for decades, we’re helping growers bring in more revenue, we’re helping customers access quality groceries for affordable prices, and we’re helping the environment by refusing to allow all the resources that go into growing and transporting produce to go to waste. We’re changing the conversation about what we expect fresh fruits and veggies to look like, and changing the culture of needless perfection and waste that we see today.
SK: What excites you about the work you are doing?
BS: I love seeing the impact that we’re having. Working with food is so tangible that way because if you work with integrity you’re literally nourishing people in the best possible way. With every new city we launch in I get to see more parents cooking healthy meals for their families, more good jobs created for the community, and more fresh fruits and veggies going to customers and food banks instead of being left in the fields or going to animal feed.
SK: How did your company get started?
BS: As an undergrad at the University of Maryland, my friends and I noticed how much food was getting wasted in our cafeteria at the end of the night. We started a nonprofit called Food Recovery Network to help find a home for this all this food, not just at my University, but at over 230 more universities that now have FRN chapters. Through my work at FRN, I met my co-founder, Ben Chesler. Ben and I learned that every year 20 billion pounds of produce goes to waste on farms, often because of how grocery stores undervalued them because of how they looked. We founded Imperfect to put a stop to this farm-level waste and make our food system a little more centered around people and the planet.
SK: Where do you see the future of the company?
BS: We hope to be a national company serving all major cities in the US and leading the way in affordable online grocery. In the next 5+ years, we envision ourselves serving major US cities and recovering billions of pounds of produce a year instead of the millions we’re recovering today. We will also be tackling food waste in all its forms, not just produce. We’re sourcing all sorts of food items that needlessly go to waste for labelling mistakes, meaningless “best by” dates that are less than 6 months away, and other senseless reasons. We’re also rolling out our own line of staple groceries so that you can do more of your shopping in one convenient place and still make a difference.
SK: What impact do you hope to be leaving on your consumers/ the planet?
BS: We hope that we’re encouraging people to think about food differently and to fundamentally appreciate the amount of work that goes into growing a single carrot, apple, or squash. If we can all appreciate the resources that go into growing our food we’re not going to let it go to waste, especially for reasons as superficial as how it looks. I hope that in time we help our food system work better for more people. Someday, I would love for all jobs in food industry to be living wage jobs with great benefits and an ownership stake, like all of our driver and warehouse jobs are at Imperfect. And I hope Imperfect can play a role in making quality food more affordable and widely accessible.
SK: What is a common misconception about your work?
BS: I think when a lot of people hear that farmers have ugly produce, they assume that they can easily sell it to become processed food. The figure from Feeding America and NRDC we use is that 20 billion pounds of produce is wasted on farms each year. That's actually what is wasted after what goes to processors and also to food banks. It’s about one in five fruits and veggies, so it's a massive problem by any measure.
SK: What do you love about your consumers?
BS: Our customers are curious, open-minded, and incredibly passionate. I’m always blown away by how fired up they get about cooking more and reducing waste in their lives. Just seeing the type of things they cook and share on Instagram makes me feel inspired. I also love all the photos of pets in our empty boxes! I think it’s awesome that people are so proud of living a less wasteful life, and our customers really embody this every day.