April 19, 2021

A World Without Food Waste: Philip Behn

Philip Behn, CEO of Imperfect Foods, shares what it will take to create a world without hunger or waste.

For Earth Day 2021, we're highlighting leaders who believe in a world with zero hunger and zero waste and currently serve as advisory committee members for The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation Innovation Fund. In collaboration with Village Capital, the Innovation Fund has developed an investment-readiness program for startups working to prevent, recover and recycle food waste in the U.S. Learn more about the program here.

What do you think it will take to create a world without hunger or food waste? 

Nearly a third of the food we produce in this country is wasted. This fact is widely known, and yet we continue to waste perfectly good food at every turn--both throughout the supply chain and in our kitchens. We need to adjust the arbitrary, often cosmetic-focused, standards retailers have set so that the “imperfect” carrot or the broken pretzel find their way into people’s homes and onto kitchen tables. We’ll know progress is made when  an “ugly” carrot is just a “carrot.” Additionally, our country’s food system is burdened by inefficiencies that contribute to food waste, such as improper food storage and a lack of solutions for surplus goods. Our supply chain at Imperfect Foods allows us to work directly with farmers, producers and distributors so that when there is surplus, we’re able to offer a viable revenue stream to the supplier, and rescue that food that would otherwise be wasted. And when there is extra food, it should be allocated to those who need it most. Any extra food we have is donated to food banks and food pantries in our communities, to help provide food security for all. We know this is not the norm, but it should be. 

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Why is this work important to you, personally and professionally?

As a dad and a citizen, I care deeply about the future of our planet. I want to do everything I can to avoid wasting food and the valuable resources it takes to produce it - labor, water, land, carbon etc. From a very young age, growing up on a farm, my brothers and I picked apples, grapes, plums and vegetables. We learned what it takes growers to produce high quality, fresh fruits and veggies, and we also saw what nature produces: big things, small things, straight, twisted, scarred, smooth - you name it. There is this natural variability that you just can’t see when you go to the grocery store. What does that mean? Well, it means that the imperfections that nature produces go “unloved” and uneaten. In a world with rising food insecurity and rapidly accelerating climate change we must re-learn to love the delicious imperfections that our food system produces.

What are you most proud of? What did you learn along the way?

I’m proud of the work our 1,600 Imperfectionists do every day to save good food from going to waste. Since our founding, we have saved over 139 million pounds of perfectly good food from being diverted to either waste or low-value uses. That’s a big deal for a company that’s not even six years old. I’m proud of the dedication of our team to tackle these problems, how transparent we are about measuring and reporting our progress and our opportunities, and how other companies - small and large - are starting to follow our lead. 

What excites you most about the role of innovation in reshaping our food system?

Collectively, we are only getting smarter about our food system. We can now measure  emissions to identify sustainability issues and opportunities within our food system, we can predict demand so that we can make less wasteful purchasing decisions, and we know what crops put nutrients back into the soil. This knowledge provides so many opportunities to innovate and improve the way our food system operates. From farmers and producers to grocers and consumers, we all have a role to play in proactively making decisions that will benefit people and the planet for our shared future.

Are you working on any relevant projects that we should highlight?

In March, we announced our pledge to become a net-zero carbon company by 2030. We’re getting to work making our operations more sustainable and less wasteful. By 2023 we plan to have our first facility certified zero-waste-to-landfill, and are on track to have rescued more than 200 million pounds of food since our founding in 2015. We also recently released a trend report that looks at the grocery industry as a whole, and specifically how online grocery can be the more sustainable alternative.

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