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What Makes Produce Imperfect?

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broccoli stalk illustration

It’s not just the wonkiest, weirdly formed, most “this came out of the earth?” produce items that get to be called “imperfect.” There are a lot of reasons delicious fruits and vegetables get rejected by grocery stores or end up going to waste. And often, even if a grower can sell these items to a juicer or processor, they’ll only get 30-40% of what they’d receive on the fresh market. We’d rather give them a more profitable way to sell their ugly produce.

Size or Weight Imperfection: Too small, too big, too heavy, too light, too varied

avocado illustration

After harvest, produce is sorted according to size, usually based on how many items can fit into a standard case. For example, large avocados fit 36 to a case while mediums fit 48 to a case. Anything a little too large or a little too small gets kicked to the curb by supermarkets. They also reject cases of produce in mixed sizes when they only want to buy one size. We happily source the tiny avocados and cannonball-sized onions because they taste the same and are just as easy to cook with.

Shape: Too misshapen or asymmetrical

Supermarkets pick produce that will fit evenly into display cases and entice buyers. Like a pyramid of cheerleaders, they pick their perfect peppers because one asymmetrical pepper has the potential to take down the whole pep squad.

Scarring: Too many marks on the skin or peel

red apple illustration

As you might imagine, there are a lot of branches and leaves on an apple tree. This means there’s a lot of risk for two little apple buddies to rub up against one another on a windy day. If a leaf or limb scrapes an apple and leaves a mark larger than 1/4th of an inch, it’s considered damaged goods. The smallest blemish or variation in color can mean an almond gets picked from the bunch and kicked to the curb. If a pear gets caught in a hail storm and left with a few marks, grocery stores will say no thanks, try again. But we like when things have scars. It usually means they have really great “you wanna know how I got this?” stories.

Discoloration: Too different in color from the average

Produce that isn’t uniformly one color often gets undervalued and goes to waste, despite having the same taste and nutrients as uniformly colored produce. Bell peppers that aren’t quite yellow and aren’t quite green, melons with a little sunburn, and sprigs of thyme that have started flowering are all deemed “ugly produce”.

Lack of a consumer market: Too unpopular

Perfectly good food goes to waste every day simply because there isn’t enough demand for it. For example, our fioretto cauliflower and broccoli leaves from Lakeside Organic Gardens are healthy, delicious, and popular with chefs. But folks aren’t used to seeing them in the store, so they just get left in the field.

Surplus: Too abundant

almonds illustration

Some of our produce is in no way ugly, unpopular, or oddly shaped. It simply goes to waste because there is too much of it on the market. It takes a lot of time, money, and resources to pick, chill, package, and ship produce. If the market is flooded with every kind of kale, a farmer will leave their surplus unpicked in the field because letting it go to waste is cheaper than harvesting and transporting them when no one is going to buy them. Thankfully, we have relationships with farmers all over the country, so they can give us a call, get a fair price for what they’ve grown, and send their surplus produce off to your Imperfect box.

Items Made with Ugly Produce

ugly produce badge

While you can’t taste these cosmetic quirks, they sometimes make it much harder for growers to sell. As much as we want to embrace every single quirk so that the grower can get a fair price, we sometimes have to settle for second best. Take our jumbo-sized sweet potatoes, for example. These spuds are absolutely gigantic, and no common kitchen knife could even make a dent in these bad boys. By turning them into our Ready to Cook Chopped Sweet Potatoes, these jumbos don’t go to waste, and the grower doesn’t have to take a loss.

8 Comments

  • JoAnn
    April 21, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    A very good article. I love Imperfect. Just got my notice that my Wednesday Box is “on the way”.
    I have yet to be disappointed.

    Reply
    • Imperfect Foods
      April 23, 2021 at 10:31 pm

      Thanks so much for the love JoAnn! Can’t wait to hear how you love your box on Wednesday 💚

      Reply
  • Diana Cooley
    April 21, 2021 at 10:52 pm

    Thanks for your informative newsletters. I know that food waste is the leading contributor of CO2 to our environment

    Reply
    • Imperfect Foods
      April 23, 2021 at 11:25 pm

      Thanks for reading! 💚

      Reply
  • Katherine Nagler
    April 22, 2021 at 10:25 am

    I received a notice saying that the drivers will take back gel packs, and bubble bags if they are left where my delivery is left. I left a bag with gel packs at my front door, where my delivery is left, and the driver did not take it. How can I get these returned to you before I throw them out?

    Reply
    • Imperfect Foods
      April 23, 2021 at 11:25 pm

      Oh no, we’re so sorry to hear about this! If you haven’t already, please reach out to our customer care team so we can get this mistake reported to our delivery team 💚

      Reply
  • Renee smith
    April 22, 2021 at 3:33 pm

    My mom is allergic to fish so please don’t not send any kind of sea food thank you.

    Reply
    • Imperfect Foods
      April 23, 2021 at 11:05 pm

      Since all our boxes are fully customizable, you can easily ensure that you don’t receive any items (like fish) that you won’t be able to enjoy. Check out this link for a quick guide on how to customize: bit.ly/33janF3 🙌💚

      Reply

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