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. 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 takes on new meaning and significance in light of COVID-19.
Our farmers and producers have taught us that our food system is far more robust and resilient than we realize. That said, it will need to adapt to the realities of a country affected by coronavirus. 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.”
But our food system is better described not as a series of supply chains, but supply networks. In tough times, food doesn’t have to stop flowing simply because one link in the chain isn’t working. 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 because everyone is baking. It’s because of a basic but largely unknown aspect of how we grow and sell flour in America. The flour we see at the store is a minority of the flour this country produces. In fact, less than 4% of flour the US grows is for home bakers. We ship the vast majority of flour to industrial and commercial customers in 25- and 50-pound bags. So until our flour network finds enough smaller bags and 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 there’s a disrupt in food supply networks, businesses like us can step in. 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. That’s 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 have admittedly encountered a few supply chain kinks of our own. But our agile and flexible way of sourcing has allowed us to turn this adversity into new opportunities for our customers and our food system.
How we’re adapting
Here are some ways Imperfect is changing with the food landscape to prevent waste, support other food businesses, and feed as many people as we can:
- We stepped in when a major airline couldn’t purchase 40,000 cheese and cracker trays due to the downturn in business. Now our customers are set to snack on what would have been a huge case of food waste.
- In the Bay Area, we’re sourcing three-pound bags of broccoli florets that used to go to restaurants. In Los Angeles, we’re sourcing 1.5-pound bags of arugula formerly used in restaurant salad stations. These opportunities support vegetable wholesalers who are struggling with the restaurant industry downturn. It also means our customers can load up on nutritious ingredients that are currently hard to find elsewhere.
- We’re working with a popcorn producer to source and package the popcorn kernels they used to sell to movie theaters. Now, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org so we can prevent waste, feed people, and support your employees. We will get through this, together.