Imperfect Produce: Saving ugly fruits and vegetables from the landfill for home delivery

Carrots awaiting home delivery at the Imperfect Produce warehouse in Clackamas. (KATU)

Gnarled carrots.

Twisted bell peppers.

Misshapen tomatoes.

You can get all of these and other cosmetically flawed -- but perfectly fresh and tasty -- fruits and vegetables delivered to your door by a growing Portland-area business.

It's shortly after 10 a.m. inside the Imperfect Produce warehouse in a Clackamas office park.

The room is chilled to 38 degrees and the vegetables and fruits are stacked high along assembly lines awaiting home delivery to 10,000 customers. General Manager Evan Pence calls the enterprise another salvo in the battle to eliminate food waste.

“Anybody who's a backyard farmer knows when you grow squash or grow tomatoes that don't all look perfect like what we see at the retail level,” Pence said. “The fruits and vegetables that are shaped funny are either scarred (or) have the imperfections that retail supermarkets don't allow consumers to purchase.”

Pence says Imperfect Produce takes the 20 percent of vegetables and fruits grown by farmers in Oregon, Washington and California that don't meet the number one produce ranking demanded by retail supermarkets and consumers, delivering them to Portland-area residents one box at a time at a 30 to 50 percent discount.

Most customers pay between $16 and $18 per box and order online.

“They're able to see the offerings for the week,” Pence said. “They're able to customize their boxes if they want to have two kales, or if they want to eliminate kale altogether.”

The business model has really taken off in the past year, Pence said. He's more than doubled the number of delivery drivers in just the past month and the business -- which began in 2015 in San Francisco -- will expand into Seattle next month, with plans to open up shop in Chicago and other points east. This is food that in the past would have been shipped to a landfill or plowed under a farmer's field.

“Given the number of people around the world who are hungry, the people in our own neck of the woods, people in our city who are hungry that we allow fruits and vegetables to be disposed of in that regard is a crime,” he said. “What we're trying to do is a little bit of a revolution. It's a new concept. It's the new horizons of what we're doing in the food chain, and I do hope that it changes people's attitudes.”

Imperfect Produce says each week it prevents 100,000 pounds of cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables from going to waste each week, or about 5 million pounds since it first started.

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