Hy-Vee helping environment, consumers through Misfit produce

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The “Misfits” program at Hy-Vee offers fruits and vegetables that don’t live up to the industry shape and size standards for a lower price. These fruits and vegetables are usually thrown away.

Almost all Hy-Vees in the region are now making efforts to reduce food waste and help consumers save money on produce through their “Misfits” program.

The Misfits program offers fruits and vegetables that don’t live up to industry size and shape standards at a lower price. “Ugly” produce is often wasted despite being in good condition, which creates large amounts of food waste, according to Brookings Hy-Vee produce manager Mike Burzlaff.

The Misfits program has been in place for more than six months and has seen “tremendous success,” Burzlaff said. 

He said anywhere from five to 10 packages labeled Misfits arrive on a delivery truck each week to be marked down 30 percent. The Misfits program was created by Robinson Fresh in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Hy-Vee partnered with Robinson Fresh to implement the Misfits.

An estimated 3 to 4 percent of produce is wasted weekly at Hy-Vee, Burzlaff said, adding his belief the Misfits program can make a positive impact on this number.

Jennifer McLaughlin, SDSU sustainability specialist, said the amout of wasted materials can be reduced, and “we are moving in the right direction.”

John Griesenbrock, vice president of produce and HealthMarkets for Hy-Vee, explained the value of the program in a “Refrigerated & Frozen Foods” article.

“The beauty of this program is that the produce tastes the same and is of the same high quality, it just looks different. As the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover. The same is true for Misfits fruits and vegetables,” Griesenbrock said. “As a company with several focused environmental efforts, we feel it’s our responsibility to help educate consumers and dispel any misperceptions about produce that is not cosmetically perfect.”

McLaughlin said she sees three major reasons Misfits is an important program.

“The amount of food wasted is disturbingly massive … [Also], sometimes even if healthy, nutritious food is available, low-income residents struggle to pay for it. Having healthy food at a discount could help bridge that gap,” McLaughlin said. “Being able to sell ‘ugly’ fruit is advantageous to farmers as well who otherwise would lose money from the expenses used to grow that product.”

Also quoted in the article from “Refrigerated & Frozen Food,” Hunter Winton, general manager for Robinson Fresh, resonated these ideas, highlighting the mutual benefit of Misfits for consumers and producers.

“With the Misfits program, farmers have an outlet to sell more produce, and customers have an opportunity to save money and help reduce waste,” Winton said. 

McLaughlin believes Misfits “sounds like a wonderful program,” adding that it can make a difference in the lives of consumers, as well as leave a positive environmental impact.

“Having healthy foods available at a discounted price may help ensure that all, regardless of socioeconomic status, has access to nutritious choices,” McLaughlin said.

Brookings’ Hy-Vee was already working to cut down on food waste, as well as benefit the community, by donating six to eight cases of food weekly to Feeding Brookings, according to Burzlaff. This effort remains in place in addition to the Misfits. 

Misfits produce is available in almost all of the more than 240 Hy-Vee stores in the Midwest, Burzlaff said. He added that Hy-Vee is currently up for an industry award for its efforts through the Misfits program.