Have you ever bought something at a grocery store only to ask: “Why the heck is there so much packaging?” You’re not alone. As part of our mission to build a kinder food system, we spend a lot of time thinking about issues like packaging that plague the grocery industry, and how we can do business differently. We launched our Packaging Return Program, becoming the only national grocer to take back gel packs and insulated liners from your doorstep at no additional cost.
But our commitment to reducing packaging waste doesn’t stop at our deliveries. Our broader goal is for Imperfect Foods to set the standard for what a less wasteful grocery store can look like, by saving ingredients from lesser outcomes and avoiding packaging wherever we can.
Eliminating packaging is seldom straightforward. Sustainable packaging doesn’t always perform as planned, resulting in poorer quality and more food waste. Using compostable packaging is also complicated in practice, since much of the country simply does not have the facilities necessary to actually compost it. We’ve had to assess these various tradeoffs as we’ve grown from delivering only produce – which can be shipped at room temperature and requires little to no packaging – to providing you a full grocery lineup. We now need to ensure that our proteins stay cold and Imperfect delights like dried mango and chocolate-covered pretzels stay dry and fresh for as long as possible. To provide you high-quality, sustainable groceries at prices you can afford, we seek to reduce packaging waste while maintaining food safety and quality in 3 key ways:
Avoiding Packaging: We work to reduce packaging by not including it unless we absolutely need to. This is why so much of the produce in your Imperfect order comes “naked.” While we could wrap each cucumber in plastic like other retailers, we choose not to because we don’t want our efforts to reduce food waste to result in unnecessary packaging waste. This has been a conscious decision of ours since day 1. Sometimes these efforts are out of our control because we receive produce already wrapped in plastic from the growers we work with; for example, many cauliflower growers wrap their cauliflower heads in plastic right in the fields as they harvest them. If the cauliflower is at risk of going to waste, we’ll buy it – plastic and all – to ensure that it finds a good home.
Reducing Packaging Materials: When we need to include packaging, we are intentional about using recycled plastic where we can and keeping it as minimal as possible. For instance, when we began development for our Double Chocolate Chocolate Brownie Mix, we aimed to design it as sustainably as possible. Most baking mixes come in a plastic bag within a cardboard box. While the extra layer of packaging looks pretty on store shelves and helps brownie mix sell there, we decided it was unnecessary for our needs and eliminated the cardboard box altogether. The result? A delightful brownie mix with 89% less packaging than a conventional retailer, while still keeping the shelf life the same. We’ve brought this same approach to other items like our lineup of Imperfect pastas and our pumpkin bread, too.
Supplier Partnerships: We are proud to source from suppliers that share our values around reducing packaging, like Coke Farms, Covilli Brand Organics, and Sumano’s Organic Mushrooms. As you’ve probably seen, some produce like strawberries and cherry tomatoes come in plastic clamshell containers by default. If you’re trying to avoid plastic, these containers are a non-starter, and unfortunately even if you don’t mind them, they’re notoriously difficult to process at recycling facilities. That’s why we were delighted that Coke Farms, Covilli, and Sumanos now offer cardboard containers for their strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. We’ll start offering these easier-to-recycle options for produce packaging later this summer!
When it comes to avoiding waste, no question or detail is too small, because we’ve seen just how it all adds up to big improvements for the environment. We’ve only just begun in our journey and will continue to evolve and expand our approach to align our packaging with our mission. We invite other companies and our customers to come on this journey with us and prove that a less wasteful grocery store – and future – is possible today!
Head here to learn more about our packaging, our Packaging Return Program, and to get suggestions for how to reuse and recycle our packaging.