Are ‘Ugly’ Produce Boxes Actually Cheaper Than Grocery Shopping?

Are ‘Ugly’ Produce Boxes Actually Cheaper Than Grocery Shopping?


Illustration for article titled Are ‘Ugly’ Produce Boxes Actually Cheaper Than Grocery Shopping?

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Do “ugly” produce subscription boxes actually reduce food waste and save you money compared to shopping in a discount grocery store ? Not quite, that’s mostly marketing—but they are still relatively cheap, reliable, and a convenient way to get veggies delivered to your door.

What are ugly produce boxes?

The big players are Imperfect Foods, Misfit Market and Hungry Harvest, and they’re similar to subscription meal boxes like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron, except, as the names imply, they focus on misshapen or off-spec produce that is otherwise perfectly edible.

As with regular subscription food boxes, the food you select (some of these boxes have other groceries, like meats, too) is delivered to your door each week, although you can opt out and skip weeks, too.

Do these boxes really reduce food waste? 

All three boxes claim to use food that would otherwise be wasted. Imperfect Foods promises to “help build a kinder, less wasteful world,” Hungry Harvest says they “eliminate unnecessary & avoidable food waste,” and Misfit Markets claims that they offer “great pricing on organic produce because of inefficiencies within the food system.”

But, as we’ve previously pointed out, while it’s true that these subscription boxes rely on second-grade produce, so do food services, food banks, and lower-end groceries—which also happen to compete in the same space as these subscription boxes. Actual “ugly” produce is really just processed into juice, jam, baked goods, salsa, soups, or guacamole.

Food waste is a real issue, of course, but that’s a problem related to overproduction, especially when harvests create a glut of produce in a short period of time and ends up wasted. Plus, these ugly produce boxes are a tiny fraction of the food market, so whatever the impact that these companies might have is minimal, in terms of scale.

Are these boxes cheaper than a grocery store?

It’s comparable to the prices you’ll find in discount grocery chains (unlike, say, Wegmans or Whole Foods). There are a range of options, but generally these boxes will cost between $20–30, with shipping fees that are about $5.

Most reviews suggest that the costs are about the same as shopping in a grocery store, although you can get a few breaks on certain items here and there (less so on the pre-packaged stuff). This bears out when I compared Imperfect Foods prices to that of a discount grocery chain in the same area to where the box was delivered:

  • Bag of Sweet Kale, chopped: 65 cents more expensive
  • Asparagus: $2 cheaper
  • Green pepper: Same price
  • One lb of red potatoes: Same price
  • One avocado: 11 cents cheaper
  • Carrots: 50 cents cheaper
  • One lb of ground chicken: 50 cents more expensive
  • Uncured turkey franks: $2 more expensive

Of course, the value will also depend on the quality of produce available in your area, so you’d have to try these boxes to really know which option is better. Also, you’ll want to factor in the delivery charge and the inability to hand-pick your own selections, as these might negate whatever savings you’d be making on food prices.

Bottom line

Despite some overhyped marketing, ugly produce boxes can still be a good, affordable option if you want the convenience of having produce delivered to your door for a reasonable price. For what it’s worth, two Lifehacker staffers subscribe to ugly produce boxes and are happy with what they get (one says they eat more produce because of it, another says it helps with meal planning for the week), so if you think the cost is reasonable, it’s definitely worth a shot. It probably won’t make much of a dent in terms of preventing food waste, though. Or saving you a ton of money.

 



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