The Truth About Imperfect Foods Delivery Service

They say nobody's perfect, and this also extends to foods. Sure, all the photogenic fruits and veggies get carefully arranged in-store produce bins and gently misted with simulated rain showers before being packed up by personal shoppers and whisked off to appear in Instagram-worthy salads. But what of their slightly defective brethren? What becomes of them?

Imperfect Foods is a company that was founded to find new homes for not only Spookley the Square Pumpkin but also Chrissie the Crooked Cucumber, Mikey the Midget Mango, and Debbie the Discolored Durian. According to their website, Imperfect Foods was founded, way back in the mid-20-teens (2015, to be exact), in order to "eliminate food waste and build a better food system for everyone." The company mission statement goes on to say: "With every bite into a misshapen apple, short piece of pasta, or over-sized egg we can shape our world for the better." (Although, you know, misshapen worlds need love, too.)

Imperfect carries non-produce items, too

While An Oregon Cottage reveals that Imperfect Foods were originally known as Imperfect Produce and pretty much stuck to selling fruits and veggies (kind of like a CSA that delivers via mail), they have since branched out into offering a whole range of different products including dairy, meats, snack items, beverages, and baking supplies. While some of these items are "reclaimed foods" that might otherwise have gone to waste, such as cheese snack trays originally intended for airlines that needed to be re-homed due to the pandemic, other items, as Imperfect admits, have no waste-related backstory.

As their Imperfect Pledge states (they're all about pledges, mission statements, promises, and other such noble sentiments), "If we can't fight food waste with every grocery item we offer, we can pledge to only provide products that are good value, high quality, and sustainably sourced." To that end, they offer their own house brands of some products, although each of these has to live up to certain standards such as pantry items containing no partially hydrogenated oils/artificial trans fats and meats being antibiotic-free and vegetarian-fed. (They also offer a wide range of faux meats and vegan dairy substitutes.)

How an Imperfect subscription works

Once you sign up for an Imperfect account, you first pick your basic box: all fruit, all veggies, both fruits and veggies, or all-organic. You can also choose your box size (small, medium, large, or extra-large) and delivery frequency (weekly or every other week) and even select add-on packs: meat and fish, snacks such as chips and cookies, dairy (milk, eggs, cheese,  etc.), and grains (rice, quinoa, pasta).

If you just leave your selections at that, then every week (or every other week) Imperfect will send you a selection of produce plus whatever add-ons you've chosen. If you want more hands-on shopping, however, you're free to customize each delivery you get. Several days before it's scheduled to arrive, you'll get an email notifying you it's time to go shopping (should you so desire), and when you log into your account you can see your current basket and delete any items you don't like with the option to add these to a "never list" so they won't feature in any future boxes. You can also add extras of any items in that box, or you can add any items from any of the other categories Imperfect offers. The shipping fee is $4.99 to $8.99 (for a limited time, delivery is free for orders totaling $60 or more in select locations). If there's ever a time you don't want a delivery, you're always free to skip as many of these as you wish, too.

Some reviewers really like Imperfect Foods

An Oregon Cottage says what tempted them to give Imperfect Foods a try was the fact that this subscription is so customizable, since other produce delivery services she'd tried often left her family with a fridge full of stuff they didn't care for. Not even the most dedicated of plant-eaters, after all, like every single type of fruit and vegetable there is. They were generally pleased by the selection, admitting that while Imperfect can't replace the need for additional grocery shopping elsewhere, fewer trips to Costco = fewer expensive impulse buys. They also like the fact that much of the packaging is recyclable, and you may even be able to leave the boxes and ice packs for pick up.

Business Insider's reviewer also found Imperfect's limited selection to be more of a plus than a minus, saying "be[ing] faced with preset, limited options was actually a fun challenge that added more variety and creativity to my cooking." They found the produce they received to be seasonal, of good quality, and usually of a comparable price to what you'd find in the grocery store.

Others customers aren't so crazy about them

The Trust Pilot website tells a different story about Imperfect Foods. Out of 160 customer reviews, they've earned an average of 1.9 stars out of 5. 59 percent of those reviews rated Imperfect as far from perfect, indeed, with 1-star reviews expressing disappointment with the produce. One complaint claimed, "My box is always missing something and I've had to throw items out that are not good. Today I got cauliflower with mold and kale with so many holes, I had to throw both away." Another said, "My last 3 boxes in a row were missing items or spoiled when they arrived."

Another issue some noted was seemingly random substitutions for out-of-stock items: "How are you going to try and replace vegan sour cream and onion chips with a loaf of bread?" Still, others had problems with the packing: "Everything in your order is tossed into the box/bag without any care or method. Canned goods on top of kiwis and tomatoes. Meat next to produce" and delivery: "The order was delayed 2 times and by the time it arrived the meat was at an unsafe temp and ice leaked all over everything." Since the common thread running through these complaints seems to indicate food arriving in an inedible condition, the following comment expressed the sentiments of many: "I don't feel like I am saving the planet, or saving money, when I ended up having to waste food anyway."

Ugly produce might not even need saving

Crop scientist Sarah Taber is no fan of the whole "save the ugly foods" movement, calling it "a big honkin wad of bullsh** that self-promoting foodies get away with bc nobody knows better. " She explains that packing houses never throw away food unless it's completely inedible, and reveals that the less attractive stuff "GOES TO THE GROCERY STORES THAT POOR PEOPLE SHOP AT." Taber also points out that not-so-pretty produce gets turned into other stuff: "Fugly apples ARE WHERE APPLE JUICE AND APPLE SAUCE AND APPLE CIDER AND APPLE BUTTER AND APPLE JELLY AND APPLE PIE COME FROM" and 'ugly, unloved sweet potatoes...[are] WHERE MOTHERF***** SWEET POTATO FRIES COME FROM."

According to The Atlantic, ugly produce purveyors may also take away business from smaller growers since they tend to source "imperfect" items from larger growers that would have repurposed these foodstuffs anyway. The consumers they target, mostly affluent wannabe-do gooders, can feel like they're doing the earth-saving thing by shopping from ugly produce companies rather than patronizing local farmers and food co-ops. There's even a petition on requesting that Imperfect Foods "take responsibility for the impact your start-up is having on small farmers and community-based organizations," saying that "millions of dollars of venture capital has allowed you to use the language and messaging from our respective movements even as you out-advertise and out-compete smaller community based producers." Ouch. Maybe Imperfect Foods isn't as green as they're painted, after all.