'Ugly' produce delivery service comes to Portland | Crain's Seattle

'Ugly' produce delivery service comes to Portland

Imperfect Prdouce launches home delivery of "ugly" fruit and vegetables in Portland and several other West Coast markets. | Photo courtesy of Imperfect Produce.  

If you are cool with a crooked carrot or an oddly shaped orange, then perhaps Imperfect Produce is the perfect food delivery service for you.

Imperfect Produce is on a social mission to eliminate food waste, help farmers benefit from a full harvest, and make healthy fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable. Each customized box is filled with a variety of organic or conventional ugly fruits and vegetables priced at a discount – roughly 30 percent to 50 percent below market prices.

“Wasting less food is about eating better and supporting farmers,” says Evan Pence, Portland general manager. “By eating Imperfect fruits and veggies, you’re helping to change the food system, improve access to healthy food and protect the environment from the greenhouse gasses emitted by uneaten, decomposing food in landfills."

One in five fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. does not meet the strict cosmetic standards of grocery stores, usually causing them to be sent straight to the landfill or left to rot in the field.

This produce often is just as tasty and nutritious as the prettier products, and Pence says Imperfect Produce is bringing this misshapen but delicious food to local to people living in the greater Portland metropolitan area, including downtown, as well as communities from Troutdale and Vancouver, Wash. to Hillsboro and Oregon City.

Imperfect CEO Ben Simon noticed a lot of campus food going to waste while a student at the University of Maryland. To solve this problem, he founded the Food Recovery Network, a non-profit dedicated to preventing waste on college campuses.

Simon met co-founder Ben Chesler during his work for FRN, and together they were introduced to Ron Clark, who had spent decades working in the produce supply world, most recently with the California Association of Food Banks and the Farm to Family program.

The trio founded Imperfect two years ago this month to reduce the amount of produce that goes to waste every year by sourcing ugly produce directly from the farms and delivering it at a discount to customer’s homes. Imperfect’s delivery service is available in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and as of August, Portland.

Emphasis on speed

Imperfect tries to source all its fruits and vegetables from regional farmers, and uses a local delivery model with different distribution hubs. “We deliver our boxes as quickly as possible from farm to doorstep,” says Pence. “Our new warehouse is located within the Portland metro area for easy distribution and quality control.”

Pence says Portland is a perfect cultural fit, and it made perfect sense to make the Rose City its newest service area. Already, the thousands of people signed up to receive produce has surpassed initial projections, he says.

Imperfect offers a variety of boxes for individuals and families. Each box can be customized with just the right mix of fruits and veggies – customers choose each item that arrives in their box each week. Portland metro residents can sign up for the new delivery service launched earlier this month.

Portland’s Ecotrust doesn’t deal directly with Imperfect Produce, or in food waste. But the nonprofit partners with those who do, some of whom operate at its Redd campus in SE Portland.

Environmental benefits

“From our perspective, reducing food waste is a critical issue,” says Carolyn Holland, vice president of communications for Ecotrust. She points to Paul Hawken’s latest initiative, Drawdown, which features 100-plus, solution-oriented approaches to climate change. Reducing food waste shows up as No. 3 on the list, with the potential to reduce more than 70 gigatons of CO2 globally by 2050.

Ecotrust works to enable regional food producers – farmers, ranchers, fishers, and value-added businesses – who are seeking to create social, economic, and environmental impact in our communities.

Pence says Imperfect Produce “has kept over 5 million pounds of produce from going to waste at a time when one in eight families struggle to put food on the table. We want to eliminate the idea of the ‘food desert’ with more accessibility and lower prices for families looking for healthy options.”

August 10, 2017 - 11:21am