When shopping for products, it's natural to choose what suits you best.
We assume that bright red apples will be crisper than those that have been bruised, smooth peppers will taste better in your salads than mellow apples. These carrots with strange shapes are a difficult passage, not pronounced but well understood.
Sure a fifth of the products is thrown simply because it is unattractive. experts in food waste have said that launching perfectly edible products is a global problem, Americans particularly bad offenders. Some 60 million tonnes, or 160 billion dollars, fruits and vegetables is thrown into the United States every year, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American family of four casts an annual output of $ 1,600.
But the fact that the products are ugly does not mean that they are not edible. Misfits Market, in fact, wants you to eat it. The Philadelphia start-up, which started this summer, sells subscription boxes containing ugly products that the company buys directly from farms. Ugly fruits and vegetables from misfits sell for 30-50% less than their retail prices.
Of course, it's a tricky business: selling unsaleable products. Many unattractive products are donated to food banks and soup kitchens. So it may be wrong to buy fruits and vegetables that might otherwise end up in the hands of the needy. I recently spoke by phone with Abhi Ramesh, CEO of Misfits Market. I volunteered soups before, and am aware of the urgent need for unwanted products. But Misfits Market continued to appear in my Facebook feed, while friends happily announced they had ordered ugly product shipments.
Ramesh explained how his company provides a new source of income for farmers who do not have the infrastructure to donate their ugly products, and how he sees Misfits as playing a major role in reducing global food waste. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Let's start from the beginning: What gave you the idea to create a food box company?
Previously, I was working for a private equity fund called Apollo Global Management in New York, and I studied Supply Logistics. This is where I noticed how old and largely inefficient the sector was. There were so many human errors that destroyed food, and there was not a lot of infrastructure across the country to properly store perishables. There is so much food thrown.
Last year, I had an interesting experience in an apple orchard, where a farmer drove me to his sorting center when I came to pick apples. He showed me the apples that go to the grocery store and that he sold to companies that make products like cider.
There was a large percentage of people who would stay in his warehouse because they were bruised or ugly. He did not have the resources to give everything, so some were given, but a lot was wasted. A light bulb went out for me there: allowing farmers to have access to customers who would buy this type of product and prevent it from getting lost. After this experience in the orchards, it took a few weeks to install Misfits. We were launched in the summer of 2018. We are now shipping to all major cities of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York.
So, what do customers get when they buy from Misfits?
We send weekly groceries much lower than the price of groceries. People can buy a single box or sign up for weekly or biweekly subscriptions. A little box, the box of mischief, costs $ 19 plus shipping, and the most important order, the box of madness, $ 34 plus postage. All products are organic and you pay about $ 1 a pound, while at the grocery store you pay about $ 2.50 a pound of organic products.
How do you know that you do not sell rotten products to your customers?
We have a team that performs quality controls, which is a priority for us. We sell maladjusted, not old products. It comes directly from the producers, it is of good quality and we have eight to ten points of contact even before the product arrives at the box. It is possible that some things are spoiled in the box, because there are things that we can not control like the weather, but it is rare that things happen to rot at the customers.
Has this country ever hated food that is not beautiful?
No, but it definitely has become a thing. Some people do their shopping at the farmer's market, but most buy mostly grocery store products. They are retail stores at the end of the day, and they have to be attractively designed to attract people. So you enter a perfect triangle of oranges and squash perfectly shaped. Historically, grocery stores did not want to store things that were not appealing, so people got used to producing in a very different way.
How do you find the farms to work with?
We started with some local farms near Philly, and the network really grew as they recommend us to their friends. They are happy to work with us because it is a new revenue stream and we are also selling products that they did not have the ability to delete before.
Do you not bring food that would otherwise go to charities and food banks?
It's actually a common misconception that people have about this type of business. A very small percentage of commercial farms have the necessary infrastructure to donate their unsuitable to food banks and soup kitchens. They are not the ones we work with. But there are tens of thousands of other small and medium farms that do not have this infrastructure.
There are a ton of costs associated with shipping – costs that are actually higher than the product itself, and so they've let it go badly instead of spending to get it to the food banks. We see ourselves as Robin Hood's figure here. We are the aggregator of food waste. We sell what we can and give customers great value while giving money to farmers. But we also give a lot of the products we give because we invest in the pipeline between farms and food banks.
So, are you saving to take the best things?
We do not take the best products; we only select products with a longer shelf life. We have just received a huge amount of eggplant, for example. They are all ugly, but some will last a lot longer, others are very soft and will soon spoil themselves, probably in the next 24 to 48 hours. That's what we would give.
It is a product that food banks would not otherwise have access to. In the same way that farmers do not have the money to buy it from food banks, they do not go to them either to get it back. We travel 400 miles, round trip, to get the products and bring them to our warehouse. We created a product pipeline for the western Pennsylvania food banks that did not exist before, and we plan to build one in every major market we work in.
A box of Misfits Market with organic products – and ugly – Michael Michael
But I still have the impression that you are above all at the service of the millennial millennium on Instagram … like my friends who want an agreement, as opposed to food banks.
I understand that when you first think of those who are interested in reducing food waste, you think of rich people who are privileged and who care about sustainability. But most of our customers are actually cost-conscious families and we save them money. Some do not have access at the moment. About 30 million Americans live in food deserts, urban areas one and a half kilometers from a supermarket. Part of our mission is to provide product access to these people.
Are you doing something to reach low-income families?
Well, we can ship everywhere. You will notice that many startups are targeting rich postal codes or looking for urban areas who are super concentrated with millennials. But we deliver everywhere in the states where we are, and that's how we reach a large number of customers who need the most affordable products. We also have a pilot program in preparation that will allow us to accept SNAP payments.
Is the opening of this kind of business expensive?
Yes. We invest a great deal in this area, and there are a ton of logistical barriers to food, perhaps other industries do not. Shipping and receipt of all types of production costs [a lot of money]then you have to take care of storage and storage in cold storage to make sure everything is in good condition, and there are also safety rules.
There is this stereotype that people do not cook so much today. Seamless is booming, and then you have all these meal kit serviceswho is like cooking for dummies. Why do you feel confident enough to start a production business now?
It's a good question. As I said before, the millennial fashion customer who wants to experiment with the Hello Fresh meal kit probably does not buy our boxes. These are usually suburban or rural families who cook seven nights a week and need access to more affordable groceries. Cooking is the most affordable thing, because going to the restaurant is a privilege.
Because I am millennia myself, I also want to mention that many of us are looking for ways to save money. And that means you cook your own meals. We insisted a lot on preparing meals on Sunday evening and preparing our own food. So I think there is an opportunity.
In what other categories of food do you plan to move?
There is so much food that is wasted! Canned products will be the next obvious point. The boxes are packaged in a highly automated system and many of them are set aside because the labels are printed upside down, or mislabeled, or if there is a small mistake. Rice, nuts, cereals, etc., are similar products. If there is a color or aesthetic imperfection, it can not be sold.
How do you see expanding Misfits?
We want to be a national name in terms of sustainability and access to food. At the present time, as we are based in Philadelphia, the main company to which we give food is Philabundance. But we want to grow nationally and, most likely, open our own soup kitchens and food banks.
What do you want consumers to know about ugly products?
Producing does not always have to have a particular appearance. And it's not because it's ugly it's rotten or the taste is bad.
Want more stories from The Goods by Vox? Sign up for our newsletter here.