While we may have to get flexible with our favorite recipes until stores can restock our favorite ingredients, there continues to be more than enough food for everyone in America. The challenge in the months ahead will be finding creative and compassionate ways to get it to where it’s needed most. This challenge has been in our DNA as a company since day one. Imperfect Foods was born out of the desire to eliminate food waste–not because there’s a shortage of food to feed our population, but because our food system has inefficiently produced and distributed food for decades. So while this food distribution challenge isn’t new, it’s taken on new meaning and significance in light of coronavirus.
Our farmers and producers have taught us that our food system is far more robust and resilient than most of us realize. That said, it will need to adapt to the realities of a country affected by coronavirus just like the rest of us. As Danielle Wiener-Bronner of CNN Business shared, “Empty shelves mean there’s a bottleneck, not a shortage. Food that had been destined for restaurants, bars, offices, and other gathering places will need to go to homes instead, and the system will have to account for the increased volume of groceries Americans cooking at home are suddenly buying.” Our food system is better described not as a series of supply chains, but supply networks. In tough times like a pandemic, food doesn’t have to stop flowing simply because one link in the chain isn’t working the way it usually does. Instead, it can flow to new destinations in the network around it.
However, it’s very challenging to redirect goods from one market to another. For example, the reason flour seems scarcer than gold right now isn’t actually because of how many of us are baking bread and cookies, but rather because of a basic but largely unknown aspect of how flour is grown and sold in America. The flour we’re used to seeing in five-pound bags at the store is the minority of flour grown in this country. In fact, less than 4% of US flour is grown for home bakers. The vast majority of flour is shipped to industrial and commercial customers in 25- and 50-pound bags. Until our flour network finds enough smaller bags and the labor required to repackage flour for home bakers, there will be a shortage of usable flour for the home cook, even though there is no true shortage of flour.
The silver lining is that when food supply networks get disrupted and twisted out of shape, businesses built to reduce food waste like us can find new ways to make a difference and feed people. For example, when coronavirus dried up the cruise industry, our supply team reported that the normally tight avocado market was flooded with ugly and undersized avocados that used to be deemed “food service” grade. Similarly, the fresh mushroom market has a huge surplus right now because restaurants that used to buy mushrooms in large volumes are suddenly not ordering any.
We’re working around the clock to get food to our customers so we can prevent waste and build a better food system for everyone affected by the fallout of COVID-19. While we have encountered a few supply chain kinks of our own, our agile and flexible way of sourcing has allowed us to turn this adversity into new opportunities for our customers and our food system as a whole.
Here are some of the ways Imperfect is adapting to the changing food landscape in America to prevent waste, support other food businesses, and feed as many people as we can:
- When a major airline couldn’t purchase an order of 40,000 cheese and cracker trays due to the downturn in business, we stepped in to help the producer. Now our customers are set to snack on what would have otherwise been a huge case of missed revenue and wasted food.
- In the Bay Area, we’re sourcing three-pound bags of broccoli florets that used to go to restaurants, and in Los Angeles we’re sourcing 1.5-pound bags of arugula formerly used in restaurant salad stations. Not only do these opportunities support vegetable wholesalers who have been hit hard by the restaurant industry downturn, it also enables our customers to load up on nutritious ingredients that can be hard to find in supermarkets these days.
- We’re working with a popcorn producer to source and package the popcorn kernels they used to sell to movie theaters so our customers can add some pop to their next #quarantineandchill home movie night.
We hope these stories offer you inspiration and optimism during these challenging times.
Much of the food industry has been hit hard by coronavirus and our hearts go out to everyone who is struggling right now.
We continue to be an ally for food businesses that need help. If your business has excess product, please email us at email@example.com so we can prevent waste, feed people, and support your employees. We will get through this, together.