Ugly Produce: How Funny-Looking Veggies Can Help You Save on Food
We expect the produce we buy to look a certain way.
We rip spotty or underripe bananas off the bunch before putting them into our cart.
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 ugly produce is generally just as nutritious and delicious as its perfect-looking counterparts.
“If it’s ugly and imperfect just because the shape is weird, it’s still fully edible,” said Linda Ly, founder of the website 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.
“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.
Ordering Ugly Produce Subscription Boxes
Subscription box companies that deliver weird looking fruits and vegetables cropped up a few years ago, appealing to many consumers’ desire to reduce food waste.
While their critics argue that imperfect produce is usually sent to processing centers to be turned into food like soups and sauces instead of getting thrown away, another benefit of these subscription boxes are their prices. 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.
Imperfect Foods — previously called Imperfect Produce — operates in nearly 40 states, spanning the West Coast, Northeast, Midwest and some portions of the South.
Because of increased demand due to COVID-19, some new customers are being funneled to a waitlist.
The cost for weekly delivery varies depending on how much produce you prefer:
- Small box (seven to nine pounds): $11 to $13, or $15 to $17 for organic
- Medium box (11 to 14 pounds): $14 to $16, or $22 to $24 for organic
- Large box (17 to 19 pounds): $17 to $19, or $33 to $35 for organic
- Extra large box (23 to 25 pounds): $25 to $27, or $39 to $43 for organic
Imperfect Foods also allows you to customize and add more to your box for an additional cost. In addition to produce, you can supplement your order with pantry picks like quinoa and coffee, dairy items, meat and seafood. Customers can choose from 30 to 40 different produce items each week plus roughly 160 additional items.
Depending on your area, you may have to meet a $30 minimum for all orders. Delivery fees range from $4.99 to $5.99.
Misfits Markets only sells produce that is certified organic and non-GMO. The company delivers to households in 23 states, all on the eastern half of the U.S.
Customers can choose from two sizes of boxes for weekly delivery:
- The Mischief (10 to 13 pounds): $22
- The Madness (18 to 22 pounds): $35
Boxes include pre-selected seasonal produce, but Misfits Market is testing out customization in limited delivery areas.
Shipping costs are $4.50 for most of the company’s service area, with the exception of Florida and Tennessee where shipping costs $5.50.
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): $15 to $17 or $24 to $28 for organic
- Full Harvest (feeds two to three people): $23 to $27 or $34 to $37 for organic
- Super Harvest (feeds four to seven people): $33 to $35 or $42 to $50 for organic
Hungry Harvest allows you to customize your order. You can even purchase add-ons like bread, eggs or herbs, depending on what’s available. There was a $1.50 customization charge for the Mini Harvest boxes, but it is currently being waived due to COVID-19.
For orders less than $30, there’s a delivery fee of $3.49.
Finding Discounts at the Grocery Store
Your local grocery store may be another place where you can buy less-than-ideal produce at discount prices.
Several grocery chains have experimented with marketing disfigured and imperfect fruits and vegetables to customers at lower prices, but some — including Meijir, Giant Eagle, Whole Foods and Walmart — ended those pilot programs.
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.
Buying Produce Straight From Farmers
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.”
You can cut costs by upcycling nontraditional items to use as garden containers and tools and by regrowing herbs and veggies you already have in your fridge. Refer to these tips to help you save on garden-related expenses.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.