The online grocer Imperfect Foods launched in the Valley in early October, delivering to all zip codes across Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Glendale. The short gist of this service is this: The company collects not-so-pretty and excess produce directly from farmers and purveyors and delivers it to customers through a subscription with customizable packages.
We decided to give it a shot.
But first, some background.
One of the main objectives of the service is reducing food waste. This is good, since — according to the United State Department of Agriculture and as we said at the top — food waste is estimated at between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States.
Cue the Imperfect Foods service. Its website claims it has saved 139 million pounds of imperfect food. It also carries the pledge: “If food can be saved, we’ll save it.”
This is a public-benefit corporation (a company that makes a profit but is also dedicated to doing social good) founded by Ben Simon, Benjamin Chesler, and Ron Clark in 2015.
It started as a produce company in California that grew to a national grocery service. It has also donated 6 million pounds of food to food banks and nonprofit organizations. And while it does not take SNAP/EBT, Imperfect Foods offers a reduced-cost box to people who qualify.
We talked with COO Neil Neufeld by phone. “We work with 300 farmers nationwide, but we also bring food from Mexico," he says. "Our goal is to support local, though, more importantly, what are we gonna save?” He's referring to the flawed and excess produce, which comes primarily from California.
"In the grocery line, the food comes either from the manufacturer or vendor, or we buy the commodity, like broken almonds, and package it ourselves," says Neufeld. "The majority of the produce comes from the Central Valley, Salinas, but we also try to focus as much on regional as we can."
Imperfect Foods has six packing facilities, found in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, San Antonio, Chicago, and Baltimore. Each serves nearby cities and states. Phoenix is an extension of the 100,000-square-foot warehouse in southern California.
Everything from farms and vendors comes into the warehouse from Thursday to Sunday, which is shipped to metro Phoenix around midnight on Sunday or Monday. The crew packages the food into its subscription boxes the day before delivery, which are shipped in refrigerated trucks to delivery zones. The boxes are moved into vans and delivered to the customers by Wednesday.
Delivery to each zone happens once a week to cut down on extra trips and emissions.
Partners, like Michael Dupuis from Divine Flavor in Nogales, Arizona, align with the Imperfect Foods vision.
“We grow high quality produce for our retailers, but that doesn't mean produce that doesn't meet the retailer specifications deserves to be dumped,” he says. "We have been working with Imperfect Foods for a couple of years and hope to do even more with them."
Some saved Divine Flavor products found in a customizable box might include peppers, cucumbers, melons, eggplants, tomatoes, green beans, and Brussels sprouts.
For the Arizona launch, Imperfect Foods also donated to First Food Bank, a common goal of the company. Neufeld says that by purchasing from Imperfect Foods customers are not only reducing food waste but also helping to create work. For example, he says the Arizona launch created 150 jobs.
Here's how to get one.
Set up your account at the Imperfect Foods website, then choose the number of eaters in the household (one to two, three to four, or five or more). Add your dietary preference (regular, low carb, vegetarian, and vegan) followed by your preference for conventional, all organic, or a combo. You also choose your most important meal of the day.
Again, delivery to Phoenix happens on Wednesdays. You receive an email the previous Friday with the content of the box preselected for you. You have until Monday to change the items in your box if you wish.
For an additional charge, you can add a meat and fish pack, snack pack, grains pack, or dairy pack to the order. Yes, meat is also available through this service. When ordering, the website indicates why the protein items are "imperfect" — but not necessarily flawed. Some are surplus, others are just uneven cuts.
The website quotes $16 for a conventional produce box. Each pack will add $9.99 to the total.
We chose the low carb diet, a combination of organic and conventional produce, plus a meat and fish pack. At this point, you can mark items you’d never want. The total does not reflect the shipping charge, which varies from $4.99 to $5.99.
As for item prices, Imperfect Foods wants to be compared to major grocery stores. Let’s compare a few items to Fry’s.
One pound of carrots from Fry’s is $0.99, while a pound of carrots from Imperfect Foods is $0.89. A 10-ounce container of greens, like the spring mix, is $3.99 and $2.99 via Imperfect Foods. One count of organic spinach is $1.99 at Fry's but $0.99 at Imperfect Foods. However, a pound of yellow onion can be $0.69 at Fry's, or $0.99 through Imperfect Foods.
Keep in mind, prices can change by the week. This is just a snapshot.
If you don’t have specific items as a daily part of your diet, the one-to-two people box plus the meat addition is good for a week for one person (in our specific instance).
The organic celery was full of flavor, not watery and sad. The gala apples and Valencia oranges were smaller than what we are used to. The avocados needed to sit on the counter to ripen.
But then, remember: imperfect.