Food & Drink

Ugly but tasty: A grocery delivery service launches in Fresno selling imperfect veggies

Don’t mind eating a warped watermelon? How about a disfigured daikon?

A company selling less-than-perfect vegetables and fruit is launching its delivery service in Fresno, Merced and Modesto.

Starting Monday, Aug. 5, Imperfect Produce will begin delivering boxes of fruit and vegetables to homes in the area. The cost ranges from $11 to $43 per box.

Imperfect Produce is part of the “ugly produce” movement.

It focuses on vegetables or fruit that don’t fit the cosmetic standards of grocery stores, perhaps because they are too small, misshapen or have other flaws that don’t affect taste or quality.

About 20 percent of fruits and veggies grown in the U.S. don’t fit those standards, according to Imperfect Produce. The produce would otherwise be wasted by going unharvested or not being sold.

Nationwide, more than a third of food goes to waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ugly produce

In recent years, grocery stores have jumped on the ugly produce bandwagon, mostly by pointing out ugly produce on its shelves and encouraging customers to buy it.

Locally, Del Rey farming family the Masumotos have had a “O, U Fab!” program (short for organic, ugly & fabulous) for a while now. The program emails customers to let them know when they can pick up and pay for a box of ugly or imperfect fruit.

At Imperfect Produce, a for-profit company, the imperfections vary. It might be a wonky shaped tomato, a too-small lemon or fruit with with scars. The company’s logo, for example, is a heart-shaped potato.

Sometimes, the produce delivered by Imperfect Produce isn’t even ugly.

Food can make it into the boxes for other reasons too, according to its website. Sometimes, farmers have more of something than they can sell, the packaging has changed, or, in the case of shelf-stable products, it’s within a few months of its expiration date. Or there’s not enough demand for something that’s edible, like broccoli leaves.

Produce delivery

Imperfect Produce delivers weekly boxes of fruit and vegetables and employs its own drivers. Customers can choose from organic or conventionally grown produce, pick the size of box they want (from a small box serving one to to two people, to an extra-large box serving six to 10 people).

They can also choose an all veggie box, an all fruit box or a mix of both. Each week customers can pick and choose what they want in their box.

In addition to the cost of the box, there’s a delivery fee of $4.99.

The company also sells shelf-stable items like lentils, flour, quinoa and bread.

The system sounds like a community-supported agriculture, or CSA box, though those are typically local, selling food in the same communities where it’s grown.

Imperfect Produce gets its fruit and veggies from 200 farmers around the country. Much of it comes from California as that’s where a huge percentage of produce is grown. In this market, the company does business with Valley growers like Homegrown Organics – specifically one of their growers, Three Sisters Organics – Fruit, World, Bee Sweet Citrus, and Wawona.

But the company will get produce from out of state or other countries when necessary, going to where food waste is happening, according to its website.

Companies like Imperfect Produce, Misfits Market and Hungry Harvest have their critics.

A piece in “Food & Wine” pointed out that their produce may have otherwise been donated to food banks. Imperfect Produce says that doesn’t happen, as they come into play after food banks get their supplies.

Other critics have said programs like Imperfect Produce encourage overproduction and wastefulness by giving farmers a financial incentive to grow too much food.

Despite the criticisms, Imperfect Produce is growing. It’s now operating in about two dozen cities nationwide, many on the East Coast, along with California, Portland and Seattle.

Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.