The US is currently experiencing an epidemic: up to 40 percent of the food in the United States is never eaten. Many factors contribute to this devastating revelation, such as the lack of labor to harvest the field, or grocery stores being selective for what is sold. However, in my opinion, the most surprising reasons are cosmetic imperfections or size. These produce items are equally nutritious and edible, yet due to supermarket demand for “perfect"-looking produce, foods with the tiniest bit of imperfections tend to be wasted. In an attempt to help limit food waste based upon the cosmetic or size imperfections, many ugly produce companies such as Imperfect Produce (based in the West Coast) and Hungry Harvest (based in the East Coast) have come about in recent years, as awareness for food waste has increased.

Being from the Bay Area, I had heard about such companies for years. I have always been curious just how “imperfect” the produce actually is, and if it is as cheap in comparison to grocery stores as they boast. 

In order to do so, I signed up for the local ugly produce company, Imperfect Produce. Here are some things that I observed about Imperfect Produce in the time that I have been ordering from them.


Customization: To start, you can select how often you want to receive a box (weekly or biweekly) and the size of the box you want to order. Next, you can mix and match from organic produce, regular produce, and non-produce items to create your box, and order as much of an item as you want.

Wide variety of produce to select from: There are many items that I have never heard of or seen in grocery stores, such as shimeji mushrooms and marjoram, in addition to staples such as onions and tomatoes.

Delivered straight to your door: This makes it convenient to stock your food supply especially if grocery stores are located far away.

The reason of the imperfection is listed: While most of the imperfections are “surplus” or “mixed sizes,” being open about why the imperfect produce is even being sold makes the company more trustworthy and helps the individual buying that item understand the extent of food waste in the US.

Recipes and tips: You have the option of adding recipe cards to your box which come equipped with tips on where to store common produce items to maximize freshness.

Transparency: As part of its mission statement, Imperfect Produce prides itself on transparency, and I can attest to this. It not only has an itemized shopping cart list on the right hand side for you to see as you are filling your box, but it also lists the amount and weight of the item, where the produce was grown, and whether the item will come packed in a plastic shell, plastic bag, or mesh netting.


Delivery fee: There is a delivery fee of $4.99 in addition to the cost of your box, regardless of its size. This isn't too big of a deal if you are ordering more items, but if you are ordering less, your cost increases significantly. For instance, depending on the week, the delivery fee may increase the cost of a small box by 25 percent or more.

Large window of delivery times: The inconsistent delivery timing causes you to plan your day around the delivery, rather than it harmoniously fitting into your busy schedule. This may lead to your box being delivered when you are not home or you postponing plans in order to collect the box.

Delivery tracking: While this may sound beneficial, by the time the link to tracking is provided and the package is listed as on the way, it has already been delivered. This makes it hard to collect the package if you happen to be out at the time of delivery.

Delivery is scheduled for a certain day: Delivery only happens on a specific day every week all year round. This is difficult if you run out of food before your delivery day, or you are not present at your house that day.

There is a price differential based upon which city the box is being delivered to: I had a friend living in South San Francisco send me pictures of the options they had in their box. Comparing it to the produce available in Berkeley that same week, I found that most of the items were priced differently. Here in Berkeley, most of the items had higher price tags even though the items were still being delivered to the Bay Area.

Price Comparison

In order to see if Imperfect Produce is financially worth it, I compared the prices of items for all available produce items to the prices at places I would otherwise shop at for groceries: Safeway and Trader Joe’s.

In both locations, I noticed that they did not have as extensive of a selection compared to what Imperfect Produce offers. Regardless, I compared the prices for the items they did have. 

With Safeway, I noticed that the organic produce tends to be a lot more expensive than that of Imperfect Produce. The biggest difference is $3.30 for the red seedless grapes at Safeway, which is quite surprising. While Safeway’s regular produce veers closer to the Imperfect Produce prices, it still adds up to be more expensive. Overall, in the Safeway vs. Imperfect Produce price battle, Imperfect Produce wins.

For Trader Joe’s, it was a little more challenging to retrieve accurate comparisons. Trader Joe’s sells produce by the item amount rather than weight, yet they still have cheaper prices for most items. The greatest difference is that Trader Joe’s organic avocados are $0.85 more expensive, whereas Imperfect Produce's artichokes are $1.45 more expensive. Overall, it is a draw between Imperfect Produce and Trader Joe's.

While certain items may be cheaper elsewhere, at the end of the day, Imperfect Produce has a greater variety of produce to choose from, and is much more convenient than having to go to a grocery store. Also, by choosing to shop with Imperfect Produce, consumers are helping decrease food waste and  adopting a more sustainable diet.

Currently, Imperfect Produce only delivers to the Bay Area, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Orange County, CA; San Diego, CA; Chicago, IL Metro Area; Indianapolis, IN; Austin, TX; San Antonio, TX; Portland, OR Metro Area; Seattle, WA Metro Area (includes Tacoma); and Milwaukee, WI.

If Imperfect Produce doesn’t deliver to your area and you are interested in trying out an ugly produce program, here is a list of companies and the areas they serve

#SpoonTip: Imperfect Produce is also offering $10 off of your first order.