Ugly Food Winners: Meet The Startups Capitalising On Wasted Fruit & Vegetables

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It’s not talked about enough, but wasted food is an environmental and health disaster. One third of all food grown is wasted globally, and Asia as a region is responsible for over 50% of all wasted food. And as we get richer, we waste even more food. What’s even worse: a huge amount of wasted food is perfectly edible! Are companies who are making ugly food profitable the answer?

Food tossed out to landfills or spoiled somewhere along the supply chain, from production to retail to the bread crust you cut off and throw into the bin, accounts for a whopping 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – not to mention a needless crisis as millions of people in poverty struggle to get their daily three meals. 

One big source of food waste that is especially avoidable is ‘ugly food’ – literally produce deemed not pretty enough to be sold. While some businesses were early to the game, pioneering the ‘ugly produce’ concept in a bid to make their operations more sustainable, such as French retailer Intermarché who debuted an aisle dedicated to “inglorious fruits and vegetables” back in 2014, we’re now seeing a whole host of anti-food waste startups now making an opportunity out of, well, ugly food! Let’s take a closer look at these innovative startups who are cleverly making the unappealing profitable while helping to divert waste.

1. Imperfect Foods is delivering ugly fresh produce boxes

Imperfect Foods produce box (Source: Imperfect Foods)

Founded in 2015, Imperfect Foods is a San Francisco-based startup that first started out delivering surplus and ugly produce to customers. Everything in their food box, though not as pretty to look at compared to your average selection at the supermarket, is by all other measures just as healthy, fresh and delicious. More than five years on, the startup is now one of the biggest anti-food waste players in the U.S., transitioning its delivery platform into a full-service grocer that caters to its now more than 350,000 subscribers. With investors now banking on the conscious consumption trend, Imperfect Foods bagged an impressive US$95 million in a Series D round just last month, which will go towards doubling the firm’s capacity. 

2. Confetti Snacks upcycles misshapen food into delicious, crunchy grazeables 

Confetti Snacks’ range of “lovely chips” (Source: Confetti Snacks)

Singapore-based Confetti Snacks wants you to munch on their bags of plant-based goodies, made from what they call “outcast” produce. Driven by their dual mission to end hunger and make the food system more sustainable, the snack brand makes their crunchy grazeables out of ugly veggies, fruits and mushrooms and infuses them with Asian spices to make them taste just as good, if not better, than their “perfect” siblings. Plus, Confetti Snacks donates a portion of their nutritious snacks to end malnutrition and hunger by partnering up with humanitarian aid organisations and distributes them to some of the world’s most under-resourced communities. 

3. Outcast Foods is making nutritious powder supplements from “misfits”

Plant-based green drink powder mix made by Outcast Foods (Source: Outcast Foods)

Plant-based protein powders that go the extra mile in terms of sustainability because they’re made out of “misfit” produce, anyone? Canadian nutrition company Outcast Foods, is doing that, offering upcycled vegan supplements like protein shake powders, superfood green powders, vitamins and more, using up unattractive peas, rice, pumpkins, beets, blueberries – you name it. Not only are their whole plant powders packed with nutrients and helps to divert waste from landfills, they are also made to have a long shelf-life to prevent spoilage that further adds to food waste.  

4. Good Use makes good juice of not-so-good-looking kale, ginger and beets

Good Use’s range of cold-pressed juices (Source: Good Use)

Good Use started out with the simple idea of taking the unloved, discoloured or oddly-sized veggies and fruits from farmers across Western U.S. who wouldn’t be able to sell them and make them into healthy juices. Since its inception in 2016, the firm has saved 2 million pounds of food, making more than 26,000 deliveries to their customers in San Francisco who can purchase their cold-pressed anti-waste juices – and choose how much they want, what they want, when they want it. Their customisable subscription then delivers these delicious juices to doors through carbon-friendly couriers on bikes to keep their footprint as low as possible too!  

5. Ugly Pickle Co. is pickling up “cosmetically-challenged” produce

“Bread ‘n’ Butta” pickles made by Ugly Pickle Co. (Source: Ugly Pickle Co.)

Ugly Pickle Co. is using up those three-legged carrots, curvy cucumbers and overgrown squash that are otherwise perfectly edible and nutritious from local farmers to make “real ugly” yet “tasty as heck” pickles. Based in San Francisco, the startup has created an entire line-up of pickles from garlicky, briney carrots to the good ol’ dill pickle and even spreads and dips alike roasted root hummus. 

Want to discover more innovative food waste solutions? Read this. Curious about which diet produces the least food waste? We investigated this. PLUS: check out our guide on how to reduce food waste at home.


Lead image courtesy of Imperfect Foods. 


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