I co-founded Imperfect with the goal of closing the loop on the billions of pounds of produce that get wasted every year because they aren’t pretty enough for grocery stores. We deliver delicious but wonky-looking produce to people’s doors for 30-50% less than grocery store prices. Since our launch over a year ago we’ve kept over 1.8 million pounds of food from going to waste, gotten on the cover of National Geographic, and are about to expand to Los Angeles! Find us at www.imperfectproduce.com

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/KErLV EDIT: I have to go and so unfortunately cannot answer any more questions today but had a blast and would love to do another one of these soon. Happy holidays everyone!

Comments: 203 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

enviame_desnudos196 karma

This is such a stupidly good idea.

Are most of your customers retail consumers or do you target larger scales such as schools, the military, and prisons?

Also does your food mostly come direct from the farmers or is it usually retail "waste"?

BenSimonOfficial122 karma

Long term we definitely want to serve more B2B customers like that -- especially schools. Right now, we're starting off with home delivery. Mainly, we've just seen a big gap in the grocery home delivery space where most of the big players are serving the top 1% or 10% of income levels with a premium offering, so between the good price and the story/impact of it people have really got on board. And yeah, just about all of it comes straight from farms.

roguevirus135 karma

My understanding is that "ugly" produce is what is sold to companies that turn them into juices, Broth, and pieces so small that the defects are mitigated (such as baby carrots).

Is this the case? If so, how much waste is there if you account for these products?

BenSimonOfficial168 karma

You're right -- a lot of ugly veggies have a processor market. Apples, oranges, and other fruit tend to. Often even when there is a processor market, farmers are forced to sell it below cost. So we buy some of that stuff and are able to pay a lot more than processors do. But most items -- basically all the field packed product like celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. don't have a processor market and would be left in the field. And then even items like kiwis, eggplants or any other pears besides the bartlett often go to animal feed for 1 cent per pound.

roguevirus37 karma

Thanks for the info. I look forward to a San Diego expansion!

BenSimonOfficial55 karma

Awesome! SD should actually be sooner rather than later. We are planning on launching in LA in late January/early February and should launch in SD by April or May. You can sign up on our website ahead of time so you're all set up when we launch if you want.

kevinnetter65 karma

What wonky produce is the easiest/hardest to sell?

BenSimonOfficial203 karma

Great question! Easy sells for us are definitely fresh seasonal fruit like citrus, kiwis, and persimmons. We also see a lot of demand for healthy greens like kale, broccoli, and lettuces, which are normally expensive in stores so people love the savings plus the convenience of having it delivered. Hard sells are anything with visible scarring, which can look weird at first, but once you peel or chop the item you realize that it's the same as what you could have gotten in the stores. To be honest though, one of the most common responses we get from people when they first get their box is "this isn't ugly at all!" It is astounding how strict the cosmetic standards at grocery store standards have become over the years.

Drunken_Economist50 karma

Do you sell to restaurants/caterers/etc frequently? I'd imagine they wouldn't much care what their produce looks like

BenSimonOfficial77 karma

We have a bulk buying program with a few local customers like UC Berkeley Co-ops and a company called "Ugly Juice" that makes juice out of leftovers. We don't actually sell that much to restaurants, tho. The supply chain we've created takes a few days to get it to us so it's a little tough to meet the demands of chefs who want to be able to order the night before and with a huge selection of products.

Drunken_Economist16 karma

That makes sense. If not for companies like yours, what would happen to the produce? Is it just landfill?

BenSimonOfficial29 karma

It's a combination, and really depends on the individual item. Landfill, compost, animal feed, being left in the field to get tilled under, or occasionally processors (see answer ^ to the question by roguevirus above)

lenebean8939 karma

Hi Ben! As an Imperfect customer, I first want to say thank you for introducing me to world of crazy fruits and vegetables! I've tried lots of different produce that I normally would never have eaten, and I'm curious -- what is the most "exotic" fruit or vegetable you've ever eaten, and how did you prepare it?

Thanks again!

BenSimonOfficial31 karma

Thanks for the support! So happy to hear you're loving it. I cooked lotus root once which is basically this big gnarly root that grows in the muck. You slice it up and it looks like swiss cheese in the middle. Like a big mud tuber. It's really delicious and crispy fried tho. https://www.google.com/search?q=lotus+root&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS723US723&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwizoO6EhYvRAhXJLmMKHTBcAZAQ_AUICCgB&biw=1920&bih=974

l3tsplay228 karma

Hi Ben,

We were former customers of imperfect (for the record we love your mission and your idea which is why we signed up in the first place), but recently quit due to consistent issues (by consistent we mean literally every week) with poor quality produce (moldy fruit, damaged produce) or items missing from our order.

Two questions: 1) I know you guys recently went through some significant growth. How has this impacted your day to day operations? I know your customer service staff said you were implementing new protocols, but those didn't appear to happen. Has the growth of your company exceeded expectations?

2). How do your buyers work with wholesalers or farms directly to purchase ugly produce and distinguish it from produce that might not the top quality? We'd consistently get moldy or damaged produce and I fear new customers who are leery of buying imperfect fruit will be completely turned off by the idea if it is inedible.

BenSimonOfficial45 karma

Hey! Thanks for writing in. To answer your questions: 1) Yes, to be fully transparent, our growth as a company has not been without its fair share of growing pains. As the volume of orders has grown our customer care, supply, and operations teams have all had to adjust how they do things to keep up. We have strived to keep quality consistent as we have grown but there were certainly times where orders fell through the cracks. I want to sincerely apologize for the fact that you experienced the quality issues you did. Please understand that they in no way reflected neglect on our part, just an earnest effort to adapt to the challenges that growing a small business with logistics as complicated as ours entails. We hope you will give us another chance in the future. In the past few weeks alone we have revamped our produce receiving process, box packing process, and added new quality checkers which has produced a noticeable drop in issues related to produce quality and missing items. We are committed to constantly improving our produce box service and would love to prove it to you if you are interested. 2) Our supply team works with farmers to source "seconds" or produce that cannot be sold in grocery stores because of how it looks. We do not source produce that is moldy or damaged on purpose. That said, each time we work with new farm or source a new product there is a certain amount of time that it takes for the farm to understand exactly what our specifications are for "ugly" produce so it can take some time during the course of a season to dial in on the quality of the "ugly" items that we source. The reality is also that some produce does not survive the journey from farm to warehouse as well as others. We attempt to weed out any items that are not fit to deliver when we receive the produce from the farmers. Produce delivery can be a tricky logistics chain to manage and some items will occasionally deteriorate along the way due to moisture, bruising etc... We are always working to put new protocols into place to ensure that these items are caught and don't make it into boxes. I really appreciate your candor and honesty about the issues you experience. Honest feedback like this helps me and my entire team do our jobs better. Thanks!

Depriller22 karma

I read in vanity fair about how you used to be a rapper. What was your rapper name and can you share your rap video with us?

BenSimonOfficial40 karma

Hah! Yeah, that was in another life. Back in my freshman year in college my friends and I made a little rap/rock band. Used to have dreads too. Rap name was Ben Simon. Our myspace is still up -- https://myspace.com/thedirtysneaks/music/songs

Frajer16 karma

What makes fruit wonky?

BenSimonOfficial52 karma

Fruits and veggies naturally grow in all shapes and sizes. For example, if you have ever bought produce at a farmers market or grown your own food you see that awesome diversity in how it looks. Basically, there have always been funny looking veggies but supermarkets have told the growers and the packers they won't accept them. A lot of the product we get will be something like pears that have rubbed against the tree limb while growing creating a small scar, or cauliflower that starts to yellow a tiny bit just because of exposure to a little sun -- totally natural parts of the growing process.

justscottaustin11 karma

Great concept. Could you please:

1) Shut up and take my money?

2) Expand to Austin ASAP? How does Tuesday look?

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

Haha done. I'll see you there.

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

Save me some Franklin's brisket!

DARBDS11 karma

Any plans on ever expanding into East Coast? Live in CT and have been waiting to be able to get some beautiful ugly produce for a while!

BenSimonOfficial14 karma

Totally! We hope to be on the East Coast by 2019. Feel free to pre-sign up on our website to get an email when we launch. imperfectproduce.com

greenbeanemachine10 karma

Where can I see all of your ugly produce photos?

BenSimonOfficial7 karma

Thanks everybody! I appreciated all the good questions. This was really fun. Happy Holidays!

OmAudioDave5 karma

Hi Ben, first off, I am a huge huge HUGE fan of Imperfect Produce. You are solving such an important problem and I have been a loyal customer basically since you launched. I was wondering how you deal with the seasonality of your business. If you are only working with CA farms, are you limited to grow cycles and what produce you can offer throughout the year? Can you partner with more farms in other states? Keep up the amazing work!

BenSimonOfficial6 karma

First off, thanks so much for supporting us. I think back sometimes to the leap we took moving out here as some East Coasters and hoping we would get a good reception and it always makes my day to hear from happy customers who love the mission. To answer your question, around 80-90% of our produce is seasonal, California produce. So during the winter variety does go down a little bit. We try to spice things up with buying surplus product that in most cases also would have gone to waste. Recently, we've also been experimenting with tropicals like mangoes -- sometimes they get shipped to America get rejected because of some tiny cosmetic reason or due to surpluses on the market and we're able to buy that up for a really good deal. And yeah, we're definitely growing the supply chain to other states as we expand.

jnma275 karma

Awesome idea man. Have you ever thought about doing CSAs or farmers markets with the produce?

Also, would you ever expand to doing the same thing with other foods? Bread products for example?

BenSimonOfficial4 karma

Thanks! Our main business model is pretty similar to a CSA. That was a lot of where we drew our inspiration from. We noticed that a lot of people who tried CSAs didn't always stick around because you sometimes get hit with a lot of the same item while it's in season and don't have a good way to opt out. With Imperfect it's fully customizable and we combine sourcing from around 30 farms on a given week to give strong variety.

Yeah, we totally want to add other items beyond produce longer term. We've already experimented with a few items like a local Bay Area honey that has crystalized back into solid form, but you can just nuke it for 2 minutes in the microwave at your house and it turns back to regular honey. We were able to sell that for like 40% off. There are a lot of products like that out there and there isn't really a well developed secondary market for small and mid size producers so that's the direction we're heading in.

pamcakeslovesyou4 karma

Hi Ben, I am a customer of Imperfect Produce and I absolutely love it! Are you going to be potentially opening up customer service jobs that are 'at-home'? I would LVOE to work for you but your warehouse is far away!

BenSimonOfficial6 karma

Thanks! Love you back. I just chatted with our customer care manager. She says that we do not currently have open positions that you should check our website as we will definitely be hiring for this role in the future! We don't do remote Customer care roles right now but it might be a possibility down the road.

Annalai19893 karma

Do you see expanding out to the East coast happening anytime soon? I think this is a great idea, and I hope you all can make it out to the East coast (specifically, NH!) I think a lot of people out here would benefit from this greatly :)

BenSimonOfficial2 karma

Thanks for the support and enthusiasm! We hope to be on the East Coast by 2019. Feel free to pre-sign up on our website to get an email when we launch. imperfectproduce.com

BenSimonOfficial2 karma

Absolutely! Give us a few years but it's only a matter of time. You can sign up at imperfectproduce.com to get email updates on the new cities we launch in.

mtfx3 karma

My wife and I frequent a farm locally where we pick our own produce. I love this idea, and bringing awareness to people that there is perfectly good food to eat, that just may look different then you are used to.

I have been mostly unemployed for 8 months, surviving off web/contract work. I love the idea of promoting this way of thinking. I also live in the LA area, so this is exciting. Which leads me to my question: What would it take for me to get a job working for you and your company? (I have a resume I can send).

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

We are growing quickly and are currently hiring. Check out our jobs page to stay up to date about current openings: http://www.imperfectproduce.com/career-openings/ Best of luck!

Scos1043 karma

How long before you think you'll make it to the east coast?

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

3 years probably!

big_boo_boo-ghost3 karma

Hi Ben, how do you guys manage logistics? Do you use traditional staffing agencies? Delivery Companies? Wonolo?

In speaking with some colleagues, I've understood logistics as the most difficult part.

Thanks!

BenSimonOfficial2 karma

Yeah, logistics is one of the hardest parts. In terms of getting the produce to us, we pay trucking companies a fee per pallet to go to our farms, pick up the produce and bring it to our warehouse on a refrigerated truck. We use a local startup called AxleHire to do the last mile delivery to customers' doorsteps.

Tommy_Roboto2 karma

[deleted]

BenSimonOfficial5 karma

It's pretty rare we would ever use normal produce. Sometimes we use produce that is #1 market grade, but we get it because it's surplus.

kandersonnnn2 karma

Hey Ben! Awesome concept. What inspired you to start doing this?

BenSimonOfficial7 karma

I first got interested in food waste in college when my friends and I noticed a bunch of really good food from our dining hall was just getting tossed out at the end of the night. We created this program called Food Recovery Network to recover and donate it and FRN has now grown to 200 colleges. I ran that for 4 years and learned that where the most food is actually getting wasted that could be recovered is on farms. I used my vacation time to take a little trip through California's Central Valley and after talking to a lot of farmers and realizing they all had this same problem of overly strict cosmetic standards I was inspired to move to the Bay last summer to start Imperfect.

aldege2 karma

Canada Ontario? Or just USA

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

Just USA for now, but we've been looking at the possibility of expanding to Canada. You think there would be a good customer base there for us?

ResIpsoquitur2 karma

Do you deliver anywhere in U.S.?

BenSimonOfficial6 karma

Right now just the greater Bay Area! We're launching in LA in a month or two and plan to serve the whole country in the next 3 years.

ResIpsoquitur3 karma

How do you plan to grow? For example, are you going to offer franchises?

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

We're planning to keep things in house as we grow so we can really control the quality of the product.

eltaquero2 karma

Hey Ben! Just how big of a problem is food waste in the US? How much ugly produce is out there really? Are you worried about ever "running out" of ugly produce to deliver to people?

BenSimonOfficial8 karma

Food waste is one of our biggest environmental challenges. We waste 40% of food grown in this country according to the NRDC. It's literally the #1 item filling up landfills, and if food waste were a country it's greenhouse gas emissions would be third only to the U.S. and China. Globally, the food system is one of the largest contributors to climate change and resource overconsumption so a big part of fighting climate change needs to be closing the loop on food waste.

In terms of how much ugly produce is out there, it's estimated by the NRDC that 20% of all the produce in the U.S. goes to waste at the farm level due to being too ugly for the grocery store and also surpluses in the market. So we really don't think we will run out any time soon. There is estimated to be 3 billion pounds per year of uglies going to waste in California alone. We should recover around 15-20 million pounds in 2017, but to be honest it's just scratching the surface because the problem is so deep. We think our model is scalable so long term our vision is to be able to find a home for all of the billions of pounds of produce that's going to waste. Eventually we also want to go beyond just fruits and vegetables.

Chubbstock2 karma

Why aren't "ugly" produce simply juiced?

BenSimonOfficial1 karma

For a few items it usually is -- like apples, valencia oranges, lemons, etc. A lot of items don't really have juicing markets like kiwis, persimmons, eggplant, etc. Even the apples and other items with super well developed juicing/processor markets the farmers often lose money selling their produce and sometimes it's sort of a grey area where they may not have a guaranteed buyer and are in the same boat with a bunch of other apple growers trying to offload ugly apples. So the price falls out, they sell it below cost, and sometimes aren't even able to find a buyer so it still does go to waste.

DazzlingEm2 karma

Are you hiring? Also, you would definitely find a market in the Toronto area. Produce can get very expensive here, especially in winter.

BenSimonOfficial5 karma

We are growing quickly and are currently hiring. Check out our jobs page to stay up to date about current openings: http://www.imperfectproduce.com/career-openings/ Thanks for letting us know about Toronto. We would really love to expand to Canada one day!

Supporting4Lyfe2 karma

how do I know it your vegetables and fruit are actually cheaper than the groceries? Will you guy provide the weight and cost of the veggies?

BenSimonOfficial2 karma

Great question! We are committed to our goal of offering produce at a 30-50% discount compared to grocery store prices. What this means in practice is that our supply and operations teams are constantly referencing market prices so we can set our prices accordingly. If an item is sold by the count, we aim to offer a 30-50% discount per item. If an item is sold by the pound, we aim to offer a 30-50% discount per pound of produce. Thankfully sourcing "ugly" and surplus produce means that we get great deals from our farmers and are able to pass these on to our customers. It's a win win in the end.

ThatKetoTreesGuy2 karma

Great idea! How much of your food is GMO Free? Also, how much pesticides go into the produce that you sell?

BenSimonOfficial6 karma

It's all GMO free! And about 1/2 the produce we sell is conventional and the other 1/2 is organic.

Dannybraverman2 karma

Are you ecological in other ways; for example with your use of packaging?

BenSimonOfficial10 karma

Right now we use cardboard boxes like most online grocery companies. Honestly, it's not my favorite as an environmentalist and long term we want to have a reusable, returnable box.

BenSimonOfficial8 karma

Also, as a food waste prevention and socially-conscious company, we naturally do a really good job of donating everything we can and composting the rest.

jmbiddy002 karma

Is there any chance that we will see an included guide or email along with our box that can give guidance on storage (refrigerating, lifespan, etc.) of the different fruits and veggies we're getting? Having such a huge box can be tough to get through and I want to make sure that my produce doesn't go bad too quickly. Loving everything else so far, thank you!

BenSimonOfficial6 karma

Great question! First time customers automatically get our handy refrigeration and storage guide to help navigate this problem. We totally hear you that it can be daunting to have a big box of produce and worry about parts of it going bad before you finish it. Our company is built around the idea of avoiding waste so we want to make sure this is easy for our customers as well. If you did not get your storage guide for some reason we are more than happy to send you another one! Just shoot us a message on Facebook or email [email protected] and we will help you out. Thanks for your kind words and support!

persephone_kore2 karma

I remember hearing about you guys a while ago and thinking this is an awesome idea. I didn't know you were delivering to the Bay Area, thanks for the reminder to sign up!

Where do you get your produce from? What are the (cost) trade-offs of locally sourcing vs. not?

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

Thanks for the kind words. You're very welcome for the reminder. We get our produce from dozens of farms all over the West coast. Most of our produce comes from California simply because this is where most of our country's produce is grown and this is where most of the potential for waste is. We source seasonally available ugly produce so sometimes we do buy produce from other areas like Arizona, Washington, and Mexico. In terms of tradeoffs we love to source from local farms whenever possible for the obvious ecological and environmental reasons. That said, food waste is a problem that is bigger than just California and in order to properly serve our customers year round we will divert "ugly" produce from further afield when necessary.

WhyWouldHeLie2 karma

Do you deliver nationwide?

BenSimonOfficial3 karma

As of now we deliver to the Bay Area, and are expanding to the LA area in the beginning of 2017! Feel free to pre-sign up on our website to get an email when we expand to your area. imperfectproduce.com !

CourtofOwls42 karma

Why would grocery stores not want wonky produce?

BenSimonOfficial4 karma

A lot of grocery stores look at their produce section as a primary way to keep a strong reputation for quality and to get customers in the door. I've talked to and worked with grocery stores and they basically just don't think people would buy this. The other reason is they fear ugly produce sales could take up precious square feet while cannibalizing sales for their premium product. However, Imperfect has worked with a couple grocery stores and mainly saw data pointing to an overall increase in sales. Now, a year or two after Imperfect's launch we're starting to see a few grocery stores develop pilots.

Chtorrr1 karma

What is your favorite fruit?

BenSimonOfficial7 karma

I'm a watermelon guy personally. More recently, having moved to the west coast to start Imperfect I got put onto persimmons. I'm a big fan of the Fuyu in particular.

cksoccer1 karma

First off this is a great idea,

What inspired you to start this? It seems obvious now but like all ideas it's easy to say that in retrospect; was there an event that made you think that you have to start this?

Thanks!

BenSimonOfficial1 karma

Wonderful question! See my answer to u/kandersonnnn's question below.

BenSimonOfficial1 karma

Hey friends! Thanks again for the wonderfully thoughtful questions. This was so much fun. I have to run now but would absolutely love to do a follow up session some time. Happy holidays!