How Imperfect Foods Doubled Demand During the COVID Pandemic

Since January of 2020, San Francisco-based Imperfect Foods has seen “more than a 40% growth” in its active user base, says VP of Merchandising Ed O’Malley. The food subscription service that currently serves 400,000 subscribers in 38 states says that its weekly order volumes have doubled, resulting in the company being on track to save more than 200 million pounds of food from going to waste in 2020. 

The increase in volume comes as no surprise as many food and meal kit subscription services have seen a dramatic rise in sales following the coronavirus pandemic and shoppers looking for opportunities to avoid public spaces like grocery stores.  

“The grocery industry has been evolving for years, yet this particular moment highlights an urgent need to reinvent our food supply chain with innovative technology, and keep people safe,” said Adam Berger who will be joining the board of directors at Imperfect Foods.

According to O’Malley, the biggest challenge has been adjusting to the ramp up in volume and having the operational capacity to quickly handle that kind of volume increase. “It’s just not easy to manage a huge increase in volume like that,” he says, citing the additional workplace worries of COVID-19 as a pain point. The company soon implemented new safety procedures that have quickly become industry standards including adding plastic guards, making masks mandatory and temperature-checking workers.

Last October, the boxed fruit-and-vegetable subscription service known for maximizing on “ugly produce” grew to include meat, dairy, seafood and other shelf-stable items such as coffee and avocado oil that had slight variances, surpluses or were “short-coded” with an expiration date less than several months away, making it unworthy of being stocked on a grocery store shelf.

With farmers needing to get rid of surplus and consumers looking for alternatives to in-store grocery shopping during the pandemic, Imperfect Foods found themselves in the perfect place to expand their brand. 

The subscription service hasn’t just limited themselves to surplus food coming from farms and grocery stores, though. When the pandemic started shutting down restaurants and hotels, Imperfect Foods sought to figure out how they could help. CEO Philip Behn says one of the company’s first deals was for airline snacks.

Subscribers found JetBlue cheese and cracker snack plates in their boxes in the month of May as the airliner halted trips once the COVID-19 outbreak began. In addition to the JetBlue snacks, Imperfect Foods also bought popcorn kernels meant for movie theatres, broccoli florets usually reserved for restaurants, and pineapples meant for hotels. 

While he admits that Imperfect Foods is far from solving all of the problems with our current food system, Behn says that the company helps farmers and food purveyors have “confidence that their product will go on to feed people and also set up a viable income stream that wasn’t readily accessible before.”