3 companies creating shared value from ‘ugly’ produce

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While most of us are taught from a young age that it’s not good to judge a book by its cover, we do it all the time with the fruits and vegetables we choose to buy — or not buy. In the United States, this obsession with blemish-free food causes us to throw away almost as much food as we eat, which deepens hunger and poverty while inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Large amounts of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill because of unrealistic cosmetic standards. Between the farm and our tables, high-value and nutritious food is being sacrificed to retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection, according to farmers and others on the food distribution chain. One in five fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. never make it off the farm due to tiny cosmetic defects that don’t affect quality, according to Imperfect Produce.

Besides being a social and environmental problem, this practice of throwing away perfectly edible but ugly food also contributes to our massive food waste challenge. Nearly 40 percent of the food we grow in the U.S. goes to waste, which costs businesses as much as $161 billion annually.

Luckily, several innovative companies are stepping up to find ways to make sure even ugly fruits and vegetables make their way into our stomachs rather than our landfills. Here are a couple we think are awesome:

1. Imperfect Produce

Imperfect Produce is a subscription delivery service for “ugly” food in the San Francisco Bay area. The company is on a mission to find a home for these misshapen fruits and vegetables in people’s fridges by selling them for a 30 to 50 percent discount with a lovable, hip brand. In addition to building a scalable solution to fight food waste, Imperfect Produce’s business model also generates extra revenue for California farmers.

2. Preserve Farm Kitchens (PFK)

Preserve Farm Kitchens is a specialty foods producer that rescues “ugly” but edible fruits and vegetables from California farms and turns them into delicious preserves and cooking sauces. The company is committed to enhancing the vitality of local farms by creating unique products and preserving the harvest by using perfectly good produce that otherwise would go to waste. Led by Chef Merrilee Olson, PFK capitalizes on the idea that farmers, people and the environment all stand to benefit by turning cosmetically unappealing produce into yummy foods.

3. Misfit Juicery

Misfit Juicery does just as its name implies: turning “misfit” fruits and vegetables into delectable juice. The company uses a cold-pressed juicing process that exerts significant pressure on the fruits and vegetables to extract their nutrition without compromising on quality. Misfit formulates its cold-pressed juices using 70 to 80 percent “misfit” produce, along with scrap waste recovered from food processors who create precut packaged goods. Besides creating a delicious product, the company’s mission is to fix the waste happening in the agricultural sector.