“We always knew there was a huge amount of food going to waste outside of produce,” but until now we weren’t able to seamlessly navigate the logistics of additional suppliers and ensure sufficient products, Imperfect Food’s Co-founder Ben Chesler told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained that the itch to expand to foods beyond produce began almost as soon as the company launched in 2015.
“There were two things that we started hearing basically as soon as we launched, but became louder and louder as we expanded across the country. One was … suppliers reaching out to us to say, ‘Hey, I also have this other product that is a snack or dairy item that is going to waste – is that something you can help me sell?’ And at the same time from customers we were hearing, ‘I love that I can get my produce from you, and I can help the environment and save money, but I am still going to the grocery store. I’d love if I could do more shopping with Imperfect,'” he said.
Eventually, he added, “after hearing both of those things enough, we said, ‘We think we can accomplish both of these goals of reducing more food waste across the whole food system as well as giving customers a chance to shop in one place and with a company that shares their values and what they love.'”
Imperfect Foods began by reaching out to suppliers, but as word got around more suppliers began reaching out to it – looking for a place where they could sell safe and nutritious products that for various reasons traditional retailers would not accept.
One of the most common reasons that retailers reject packaged food is the best buy or use buy sell date on the package is too soon for them to guarantee a turnaround. But because some supply chains are long, this date could still be 30-90 days out – giving Imperfect Foods plenty of time to sell it on its platform.
The other most frequent reason that suppliers partner with Imperfect is because they recently underwent a brand refresh or changed their packaging in some way and need to sell product in old packaging, Chesler said.
But as the saying goes – one persons trash is another’s treasure. And as such, Imperfect Foods now offers 300 to 350 items that “cover pretty much every category you find in the grocery store from dry goods to perishables and we are starting to add protein and frozen alternatives,” Chesler said.
As an example of how the expansion is a triple-win for farmers, customers and the environment, Chesler noted that Imperfect now sells a coffee made for them out of Columbian peaberry coffee, which is “highly prized” but had been sold at commodity prices because there was no market demand.
By partnering with farmers, Imperfect is able to offer a unique blend for $8.99 for 12 ounces compared to the more traditional $16.99-$17.99 charged at retail for similar quality coffee, he said.
“In the end, we were able to get the farmers more money, help keep this product from going to waste and give our customers a really great deal,” he said.
Another example is of an olive oil made from olives that suffered slight frost damage on the vine and therefore no longer could qualify as extra virgin. The “not quite extra virgin olive oil that Imperfect now sells is way more affordable than you can find in stores and also helps those olives from being wasted,” Chesler said.
Distribution expands to NYC
At the same time that the company is rebranding, it is expanding its service Oct. 7 to New York City, where Chesler says Imperfect Foods has a chance to help level the eating field among financially diverse consumers.
He explained that just as New York City is home to the super wealthy and those below the poverty level alike, Imperfect Foods can appeal to people of all income brackets because it provides high quality foods conveniently but at a discount of about 30% what consumers otherwise would spend at retail.
The company also hopes to expand its distributions and types of services even more in 2020, Chesler said.
He explained that eventually the company could reach 75% to 80% of the country with its existing facilities and is exploring delivery partnerships to make it happen. In addition, he said, Imperfect will start offering food in even more convenient ways, such as more bundles of ingredients designed to come together quickly for a meal, as well as additional flexibility around delivery and customizing orders.
While Chesler acknowledges this is a lot of change and that he usually thinks in “days and weeks and not months or years,” he said he is excited about the coming year as “we have some fun stuff planned for 2020.”