Immaculate fruits and vegetables lining supermarkets have an ugly and unexpected cost, according to Ben Chesler, the co-founder of the online grocer Imperfect Foods, which launched in Boston and surrounding areas on Monday.
“People crave aesthetic perfection,” Chesler said. “The grocery stores tell growers they need aesthetic perfection and then all of a sudden we’re left with 20 percent of produce that doesn’t get used.”
Though perfectly edible, surplus produce and the bounty that bucks beauty standards goes to waste—about 20 billion pounds in America alone each year, according to Feeding America. So Chesler and CEO and co-founder Ben Simon founded Imperfect Produce in San Francisco in 2015 with the goal of sourcing “ugly” produce from farmers and delivering boxes to the front doors of customers, at upwards of 30 percent less than what they’d pay at the supermarket.
While still a student at Newton South High School, Chesler and his friends founded a non-profit to combat the child sex trade, though he switched gears to the issue of food waste after he befriended Simon. At the time, Simon was studying the University of Maryland and noticed the staggering amount of perishable food the cafeteria threw away. He established the Food Recovery Network in 2011 to donate this food to the needy and tapped Chesler’s non-profit experience to help scale the organization to 150 colleges nationwide.
From there, the idea of cutting food waste really took root.
“It touches so many issues at once,” Chesler said. “Food is 8 percent of the solid waste on this planet and so it’s a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions through methane. So one, it’s a huge environmental issue. Two, it’s a huge water issue because of all the resources that go into it. And three, for me, it was just a common sense. There are people who need food and we’re growing too much.”
Imperfect Produce sources from over 200 local, regional, and national farms, which mostly are family-owned or a co-op. The purveyor’s subscription model allows customers to choose from an assortment of about 75 organic or conventional produce items for weekly delivery, with prices ranging from $11 for a small seven-to-nine pound box of conventional items and running up to $39-$43 for an extra-large, 23-25-pound box of organic produce.
Though the company blossomed on the West Coast, it’s since branched out to six facilities where employees stock boxes and send them to 26 distribution hubs — everywhere from Austin to Minneapolis — where they’re loaded into vans and sent out for delivery.
The company’s first Massachusetts facility in Hyde Park services Boston and the surrounding areas of Arlington, Allston/Brighton, Watertown, and Newton.
“Our goal here is to be the leading online grocery store where people don’t have to compromise value and values,” Chesler said. “It’s about getting good food for a good value, and you can feel good about your impact on the world.”