‘Ugly’ is the New Delicious: The Future of Imperfect Produce

Imperfect Produce (very literally) brings something new to the table, and at first glance: you may not like it.

Imperfect Produce delivers ugly, rejected produce from U.S. farmers. Unlike competitors, it is grocery delivery with a cause: fighting food waste by finding a home for ‘ugly’ produce. 

Imperfect started as a small operation in parts of California. Now, its delivery service covers eight cities. The company will add San Antonio to its delivery route soon. In its three years of business, Imperfect has recovered 30 million pounds of produce. The service also helps customers save 30% to 50% on produce.

With a loyal fan base of conscious consumers, Imperfect continues to expand. However, what does the company’s future really look like?

Saving Food One ‘Ugly’ Avocado at a Time

‘Ugly’ avocados need love, too. That’s why the social mission behind Imperfect Produce propels the company forward. Steven Dyme, co-founder of Flowers for Dreams, states consumers respond well to companies with social missions. Imperfect shows customers the impact they make by purchasing ‘ugly’ produce. Every subscriber can access an online chart which shows them how much produce they have personally saved (pictured below). With the first order, customers receive a flyer on how to properly store produce to maintain freshness. These two tactics are unique to Imperfect.

Imperfect shows produce has personality. If you browse its Instagram, you’ll be greeted by green peppers with googly eyes and carrots holding coffee cups. How can something ‘ugly’ be so darn cute? Its fun branding is an extension of Imperfect’s mission. The brand can further develop this by creating a page for ‘Imperfect Creations’. This page should highlight colorful dishes crafted from ‘ugly’ produce.



‘It’s Not Delivery, It’s Fresh Produce’

Delivery is everywhere. It’s so popular that retailers have started structuring business models around delivery.

Amazon Prime creates an expectation for fast delivery. Erin Jordan, Senior Account Director and Partner at Walker Sands Communications, shares that 42% of consumers receive 1-2 packages from Amazon per week, and the percentage increases as the target narrows to only include Millennial shoppers.

Free shipping is even more important than fast delivery. According to Tim Finnigan, CMO at Allant Group, 47% of online shoppers back out when shipping isn’t free. Although Imperfect delivers using drivers, the company still handles and transports the produce. Imperfect charges a $4.99 delivery fee, but it does not show up on the total when customers add produce to their box. It only appears on the Billing Statement page (below). As Imperfect improves its logistics, it should consider discarding or reducing the delivery charge.

Imperfect Produce Price

As Imperfect Produce continues to expand to new cities, fresh produce will be delivered in new ways. By using robots, such as driverless vans, companies can improve delivery logistics and intrigue consumers. A report on the topic states: “The focus on automation drives its own set of interest and curiosity among consumers; 37% of consumers agree self-driving cars are the future of automobiles” (Mintel, Robotic Grocery Delivery – US July 2018). Walmart is already in the process of adding driverless grocery delivery after experiencing failure with traditional methods.

Beyond the Produce Box

Although delivery seems to dominate, in-store experiences are not losing popularity. Brick-and-mortar isn’t dying, it’s just shifting. The digitally-native brand, Zappos, utilizes revamped shipping containers to display merchandise and host events. The shoe retailer realized consumers want to try shoes before buying them, making an online order commitment difficult for some shoppers (Mintel, Children’s Footwear – US March 2017).

When it comes to groceries, Diana Smith, Associate Director – Retail and Apparel at Mintel, reports 78% of consumers do all of their shopping in-store (Mintel, Grocery Retailing – US July 2018). Online grocery shopping has yet to be adopted by many consumers. As a result, Imperfect should follow in Zappos footsteps to implement multichannel retailing.

Creating a pop-up shop using shipping containers is a great way for Imperfect to test a concept with little commitment. The average shopper spends 41 minutes in a standard grocery store. By reducing this pop-up to one produce aisle, the retailer provides utilitarian benefits to the customer.

A rendering of what a shipping container grocery store might look like. (Source: Grist.org)

As a digitally-native brand, the same branding should be consistent with a pop-up location. Imperfect can practice the second stage of CSR by giving shoppers branded totes. This prevents the use of plastic bags. Imperfect Produce can also work toward its mission by stocking a small variety of produce. This inhibits food waste and encourages subscription sales. Also, “stocking the right inventory at the right level prevents companies from being held down by products people aren’t buying,” states Lea Oedzes, Merchandiser at Shoe Carnival.

For all retailers, finding the right balance and amount of merchandise carried in stores can be challenging. Elizabeth Planek, Associate Manager, Customer Intelligence at Walgreens, says too much product can result in high cost, and not enough ends in lower profit. If Imperfect were to open a pop-up, it may have to test product stock levels. Opening a pop-up could prove to be a challenge, but Imperfect is probably up for it… as long as fighting food waste is still involved!

To view additional links and works cited, click here!



This post is not sponsored. This post was written for my Retail Management class during Summer 2018. Enjoy!

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