Embark with Imperfect
This month, the first cohort of Embark Fellows are launching crowdfunding campaigns to support their ventures before working on them full-time after graduation. We'll be interviewing them on Swearer Sparks during the campaigns to spread the word about their inspiring ventures.
Meet Ben Chesler '15, one of the founders of Imperfect. Learn more and check out their video on Indiegogo until May 8.
Q: What is your venture and how did you start working on it?
Ben: I am launching a venture called Imperfect with two co-founders, Ben Simon and Ron Clark. We are redefining beauty in produce by offering consumers the chance to buy ugly or misshapen fruits and vegetables. Six billion pounds of this produce if wasted on farms every year in the US, much of it rejected by supermarkets for not looking exactly perfect. We give consumers the chance to buy these lovable fruits and vegetables for 30% less than grocery store prices.
When the Intermarche Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign went viral last fall in France, we knew the time was ideal to introduce Americans to ugly produce. It’s kind of a no-brainer: help reduce waste (and all the negative environmental impacts that come with it, like methane emissions) and give people produce at a discount.
Q: What is the most important lesson you've learned since starting Imperfect?
Ben: It's the little details that are so important, and never make assumptions about what customers want. Where I spend most of my time is looking at exactly what each customer needs, and the logistics behind it. So, for example, customers generally want enough fruits and vegetables for a week. So it makes sense to pack boxes of assorted produce for consumers. But then we look at selling to restaurants, and they have different needs, like specific packaging, and specific days when they order their produce. I've learned that one size doesn't fit all, and that we have to really observe and listen to the customer when designing our product.
Q: What is critically important about the work you are doing that you want your supporters to understand?
Ben: The produce you see in supermarkets is nowhere close to all the produce that is grown in America. In fact, 20% of produce grown on farms in the US never makes it to a human's mouth. Some ends up feeding animals, some if composted, and some ends up in the landfill. And a lot of this wasted produce is rejected simply for cosmetic reasons - being too small, too big, or not perfectly round. People should know that this ugly produce is just as delicious and healthy as perfect produce - whether eaten raw, or cooked.
In addition to the fact that it's morally wrong to be wasting so much food, it's also really bad for the environment. The NRDC reports that food waste is the single largest component of the municipal solid waste stream. And when food rots in landfills, it releases methane, which is a gas that is a major contributor to global warming. In addition, it takes 10-50 gallons of water to grow a pound of produce, depending on the crop. So when we are talking about 6 billion pounds of wasted produce, we are talking about 60-300 billion gallons of wasted water.
Q: What are you most excited about for your time in the Embark Fellowship?
Ben: I'm really excited to get to work full-time on this venture. It's an amazing opportunity to do something I love next year. And personally, with Imperfect, I'm really psyched to spend my days packing and selling produce, and interacting with customers, instead of being cooped up in an office.
Q: What's one interesting fact that people might not know about you?
Ben: I actually spend a good portion of my week doing lighting design for theatre at Brown. It's always been one of the things I love doing.
Stay tuned for one more interview with the founder of Beat the Streets!