It’s probably not news to you, but the price of fresh produce is rising.
Between March and April 2022, the price of food in general went up 9.4 percent. Add to that supply chain and food waste concerns and there are more price increases predicted for fresh fruits and vegetables this year — between 6.5 and 7.5 percent.
With these stats, you need a strategy for buying fresh foods because you still want to eat good-for-you fresh food.
So how can you hack the existing food system, reduce food waste and save on your favorite fruits and vegetables? Think ugly produce, those fruits and veggies with blemishes and less-than-perfect shapes.
Change Your Idea of Good Produce
Too often, we skip over cratered potatoes and packages of strawberries with misshapen ones in the bunch. We lean toward buying baby carrots for snacking instead of average ones because they’re more aesthetically pleasing.
But buying ugly produce and imperfect foods can save you money while reducing food waste.
“If it’s ugly and imperfect just because the shape is weird, it’s still fully edible,” said Linda Ly, founder of Garden Betty. “You just remedy that by chopping it up like you would anyway when you cook.”
Wilted greens aren’t necessarily bad either. Ly said they can be revived by soaking in a bowl of ice water for about 20 minutes. That cold water trick also works for veggies like celery and radishes that are going soft. The greens could also be chopped and added to soups.
“If it’s just a bruise — that’s a surface blemish and you can just cut it off and the rest of the vegetable or the fruit is completely fine,” she said.
Ugly produce is worth a second look, and putting visual preferences aside can help cut down on food costs. From subscription boxes to grocery store shelves to local farms, here’s how you can save money by opting for less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables.
What is Ugly Produce?
Call it ugly, misfit or imperfect — ugly produce is fruits and vegetables that don’t look the way we might expect. Sold through ugly produce delivery companies like Imperfect Foods, Misfits Markets and Hungry Harvest, but also at farmers markets and some grocery stores, ugly or imperfect produce is just as nutritious as their visually perfect counterparts. The only difference is the potential of ugly produce to have a big impact on your weekly grocery bill.
The American Heart Association recommends that we eat four to five servings of fresh produce daily. We know food waste is a growing problem and simultaneously grocery store prices are on the rise. So how can we reduce food waste and eat healthy while also saving money?
The answer: buying ugly produce by signing up for delivery of ugly produce boxes or shopping at local farmers markets. Most ugly produce delivery companies were founded with the intention to help people eat more healthfully by providing more produce. While they don’t sell ugly produce, some companies like The Fruit Guys donate imperfect products to food banks.
Subscription Boxes from Ugly Produce Companies
Best for Choosy Shoppers: Imperfect Foods
Best for Broad Access: Misfits Markets
Best for Flexibility in Box Size: Hungry Harvest
Imperfect Foods, Misfits Market and Hungry Harvest are ugly produce companies that specialize in grocery delivery of farm-fresh produce while reducing food waste and creating a supply chain straight from farmers to consumers.
Subscription box companies that deliver weird looking fruits and vegetables cropped up several years ago, appealing to consumers’ desire to reduce food waste.
While critics argue that profit based solutions to food waste are often inadequate and despite the best of intentions, can do more harm than good, you could save up to 30% or more compared to traditional grocery store produce. Plus there’s the added convenience of getting food delivered right to your doorstep.
Imperfect Foods, Misfits Market and Hungry Harvest are the three major companies dominating the ugly produce subscription box market.
Best for Choosy Shoppers
Imperfect Foods is an imperfect produce and grocery delivery service bringing pantry staples to your door mostly in the upper Midwest, Northwest and the West Coast, and Texas and Louisiana. Imperfect Foods is one of the first ugly produce companies, founded in 2015.
They have a goal to become a net-zero carbon company by 2030. The delivery process includes 100% recycled boxes and a van driven by the company’s own delivery drivers that delivers ugly produce boxes to an entire neighborhood at once, which cuts down on pollution. Plus, Imperfect Foods donates weekly to food banks.
The best part? There’s no minimum cost per order and you get to pick from 4 box sizes, select organic or regular produce, and choose from fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and dairy, meat and fish, and other pantry staples to customize your box.
Prices range from $11 for 7 pounds of imperfect food products to $30.50 for 25 pounds, with shipping between $5.99 and $8.99.
Price: $11 – $30.50 per box, with $5.99 delivery fee
What you can order: Ugly produce, pantry staples, snacks, eggs and dairy, meat and fish, plant-based alternatives
Delivery area: Most of the Upper Midwest, Northeast and all along the West Coast, plus Texas and Louisiana
Best for Broad Access
Misfits Market was founded in 2018 as an ugly produce delivery company committed to fighting food waste by finding inefficiencies in the food system. Misfits also works with farmers to supply high quality organic produce that might look a little different. Misfits Market has altered its structure in the last few years, so the business model is similar to Imperfect Foods — customizable boxes, organic produce, high-end pantry staples, seafood, eggs and more.
There is one important difference between Misfits Market and the other imperfect produce delivery services: Misfits Market ugly produce boxes are delivered to 49 states and they are dedicated to serving rural and urban areas alike.
Price: Minimum $30, with $6.99 shipping
What you can order: Ugly fruit and vegetables, other grocery items like snacks, meat, fish and seafood, plant-based alternatives, pet food and wine
Delivery area: Most zip codes in 49 states
Best for Flexibility in Box Size
Hungry Harvest has a smaller footprint, delivering produce on a weekly or biweekly basis in select metro areas in the following eight states — Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia — plus Washington D.C.
It has different sized boxes and delivers both standard and organic produce with the following prices per order:
Mini Harvest (feeds one to two people): Minimum $15 or $28 for organic
Full Harvest (feeds two to three people): Minimum $25 or $34 for organic
Super Harvest (feeds four to seven people): Minimum $33 or $42 for organic
Hungry Harvest allows you to customize your order and a handy “Never List” allows you to choose up to six items that you wouldn’t use.
For orders less than $30, there’s a delivery fee of $4.99.
Price: $15 plus shipping
What you can order: Ugly conventional produce, organic produce, bread
Delivery area: Metro areas of eight states
Other Places to Buy Ugly Produce
You can buy ugly produce from other places, in person and delivery — some include a subscription and some don’t. Be sure to check your local options. For instance, Farm Fresh to You delivers to northern and southern California and Perfectly Imperfect Produce delivers to Northeast Ohio.
Ugly Produce from Farmers and Markets
You’ll typically save money when you buy produce directly from local growers. They don’t have the marketing and overhead costs that grocery stores do.
However, local farmers don’t have to adhere to the appearance standards stores have, which means they might sell you a misshapen tomato or an oversized eggplant.
Two ways to get produce straight from local growers are to shop at a farmers market or to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Go to the farmers market if you like picking out your own produce based on what you want to eat for the week. If you’re okay with getting random seasonal produce, a CSA program will give you a pre-selected share of what has been harvested.
Of course, you can also start a garden and eat all the wonky-looking fruits and vegetables you may grow.
“Gardening can be done very cheaply,” Ly said. “Some people think you have to get these really fancy, beautiful cedar garden beds and have this really nice area out in your yard that needs to be landscaped. (But) the cost of it comes out to be very affordable if you’re just creative with reusing what you have around the house.”
Ugly Produce from Grocery stores
Your local grocery store may be another place where you can buy less-than-ideal produce at discount prices.
If you don’t see marked-down ugly produce at your local store, talk to management about what they do with rejected produce and if there’s an opportunity to buy some at a discount.
Another way to save money is to buy pre-bagged produce like apples, oranges, lemons, potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions. The price per item is usually cheaper than when you purchase them individually, but you also have a higher chance of bringing home produce that may have imperfections or be smaller in size — even though grocers don’t advertise the bagged produce as sub par.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Ugly Produce
We did the research, and found and answered the most commonly asked questions about ugly produce.
It is called ugly produce because it doesn’t look perfect. Ugly produce is simply imperfect fruits and vegetables that are equally nutritious as more flawless options but sometimes get passed by at the store or farmers markets. When buying produce, we expect fruits and vegetables to look a certain way. This expectation built into our food system results in food waste.
Most grocery stores reject imperfect produce because shoppers often pass them by for their idea of good-looking produce. Some stores sell it to individual consumers for less and some sell it at a discount to local food banks and pantries.
We should eat ugly fruit for two reasons. First, by eating less-than-perfect-looking produce or signing up for an ugly fruit subscription box, we can help reduce food waste and address issues with the current food system. Even better, you can save money on that organic box of ugly fruits and vegetables.
With no minimum fee, and starting at just $11 with a $5.99 delivery fee, the smallest produce box from the subscription box service Imperfect Foods is $13.01 less than a Misfits Market box, which charges a minimum of $30 per order.
Contributor Veronica Matthews writes on lifestyle topics from North Carolina. Nicole Dow is former writer at The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.