grocery bag of imperfect produce

When selecting produce at the grocery store, do you avoid the oddly shaped, inconsistently sized, and slightly blemished items? If the cereal box is dented on one side, do you put it back on the shelf and pick an undented container? These are perfectly natural reactions, but appearance doesn’t necessarily mean those “imperfect” items aren’t delicious. And there’s a cost to wasting imperfect groceries.

We waste an estimated 30% to 40% of the food supply in the United States. Some of this food waste “is caused simply by dumping products that are less than perfect in appearance,” explains the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website. Wasting perfectly good food is bad enough, but food waste also contributes to climate change. “Organic waste, mostly food, is the second biggest component of landfills, and landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions.” Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Some brands have realized the value of changing our attitude towards “imperfect” groceries.

A Fresh Look at Ugly and Imperfect Foods

When the folks from D’Vash Organics were redesigning the label of their date syrups, they decided to display an interesting note about the product: “Made from 100% sustainably-sourced ‘ugly’ dates.”

D'Vash Organics Date Syrup Label
Image: D’Vash Organics

Several years ago, “ugly” wasn’t a description that would’ve been featured on the package, says D’Vash Organics president Brian Finkel. But today, repurposing flat or otherwise imperfect dates for D’Vash Date Syrup is something lots of shoppers appreciate, he says.

Food products referred to as “ugly” and “imperfect” have a certain cachet for consumers who want to shop sustainably and help reduce food waste.

There’s Value in Imperfect Groceries

Some brands are focusing their attention on those less-than-perfect items. They promote an appreciation and respect for odd-shaped, broken, and blemished foods that are perfectly edible. And they provide a market for surplus foods, items that are ripe and ready to eat, and other items that traditional stores don’t want for various reasons.

The following are just two of the growing number of food companies that cater to customers who are happy to look past minor imperfections in their groceries.

Perfectly Imperfect Produce

Perfectly Imperfect Produce is a home-delivery service in Ohio.

We source imperfect produce from local farms and wholesalers. These are items that are unique in size, shape, or color as well as surplus crops.” —Perfectly Imperfect Produce

Ashley Weingart, founder of Perfectly Imperfect Produce said she originally assumed price and value would be a motivating factor for folks interested in “imperfect” produce. Instead, she says, it seems customer interest in reducing waste is a primary draw.

Deliveries feature boxes of fresh produce, which varies depending on what’s available from farmers and other sources. Subscribers can personalize their haul somewhat. They might pick all fruit, all veggies, or mix-and-match. In addition to fresh produce, the products include Diced & Easy meal kits, which also include “imperfect” produce.

Boy holds a heart-shaped potato
Some of the imperfect foods have odd shapes, which customers often regard as whimsical and adorable.

As for the environmental footprint of home deliveries, Weingart explained that the company optimizes delivery dates and routes for efficiency, so home deliveries are likely are more eco-friendly than if each of her subscribers was driving to the store.

Some of the imperfect foods have odd shapes, she says, which customers often regard as whimsical and adorable. Others are too ripe for the time lag of regular distribution. Butternut squash is acquired from a firm producing butternut squash spirals. The rejects are too teeny for the spiralizing equipment, Weingart says.

Imperfect Foods

Imperfect Foods is another example of a food-delivery service emphasizing the value of imperfect items. Its distribution area includes 40 states.

Imperfect produce is anything that doesn’t meet the strict cosmetic standards of grocery stores. It could be a small quirk in appearance based on shape, size, or color that has no impact on flavor or nutrition; in fact, the produce found in Imperfect Foods boxes is often fresher and tastier than what you find at your local grocery store.” —Email from Imperfect Foods representative

Examples of “imperfect” grocery items include:

  • Imperfect Spaghetti: Pasta machines take a few minutes to warm up. This means that the first few batches of pasta might come out too short or too long. While supermarkets deem these irregular shapes “unfit” for shelves, Imperfect Foods deems them “artisanal,” “unique,” and, most importantly, “delicious.”
  • Imperfect Dried Mango: The mangoes used for the Imperfect Foods favorite are considered “too sunburnt” from sun exposure to be sold in stores.
  • Imperfect Dark Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Pieces: For every batch of pretzels that get covered in chocolate, a good portion of them break during the process. But they taste just as delicious as unbroken pieces.
Box of Imperfect Foods groceries on kitchen counter
Image: Imperfect Foods

More Ways To Reduce Food Waste

If you’re working to reduce food waste, consider including imperfect groceries in your diet — whether you select the oddly-shaped carrot at your local market or subscribe to a delivery service specializing in products with slight imperfections.

The FDA offers additional recommendations for reducing food waste, including:

  • Don’t buy more food than can you can use before it spoils.
  • Use a refrigerator thermometer to be sure the temperature is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to keep foods safe. The temperature of your freezer should be 0° F or below.
  • Avoid “overpacking” your fridge. Cold air must flow around refrigerated foods to keep them properly chilled.
  • Use your freezer. Freezing is a great way to store most foods to keep them from going bad until you are ready to eat them.
  • To keep foods safe when entertaining, remember the two-hour rule: Don’t leave perishable foods out at room temperature for more than two hours unless you’re keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If you’re eating outdoors and the temperature is above 90° F, don’t leave out perishable foods for more than one hour.

By Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.