Imperfect Foods’ founders, Ben Simon and Ben Chesler, had experience combating food waste in college dining halls at the University of Maryland.
Imperfect Foods was founded in 2015 to sell food that would have otherwise gone to waste.
This summer, its interim CEO told employees in a meeting, “We are not a sustainability company.”
Imperfect has struggled to keep customers and stay true to its mission, Insider reported.
This summer, Imperfect Foods employees heard interim CEO Steve Nave say something that caught many of them off-guard.
“We are not a sustainability company,” Nave said during an all-staff meeting, according to one employee present. Nave made the remark when an employee asked about the status of the company’s sustainability initiatives, which included measuring the reduced carbon emissions and other positive effects of Imperfect’s practice of saving produce from being thrown away.
For many employees, that struck a nerve. “When he said that, people kind of broke,” the employee who was in attendance told Insider.
People who work at Imperfect tend to have a personal interest in the environment, food production, and related areas, several former employees of the company told Insider. Its target customer was a similarly “granola, mission-oriented person,” one former employee told Insider.
Its founders, Ben Simon and Ben Chesler, had experience combating food waste in college dining halls at the University of Maryland.
But former employees tell Insider that Imperfect is a far different company from the one that Simon and Chesler founded in 2015. In addition to Nave’s sustainability comment, they pointed to Imperfect’s opposition to unions that its warehouse and delivery employees attempted to form this year.
After one group of Northern California drivers won its union vote in April, Imperfect told Insider in a statement that it would challenge the election results, saying that they “were materially impacted by the inability of certain drivers to timely obtain ballots.” Another group of Imperfect workers in Oregon voted against unionization in July after reports of an anti-union campaign from the company.
Imperfect’s transformation began well before 2021, according to the employees. Some pointed to Philip Behn, who was CEO from late 2019 until his ouster this year, as emblematic of the executives and middle managers who changed the tone at Imperfect.
Behn came to Imperfect’s top job after years at Walmart’s e-commerce arm. Under his tutelage, Imperfect hired other executives with established careers at other retailers, from Amazon to Trader Joe’s, but didn’t necessarily understand the company’s origins fighting food waste, according to the former employees.
And while shoppers looking for grocery delivery flocked to Imperfect during the pandemic, the former employees and documents that Insider obtained suggest that those new hires have struggled to retain customers and grow sales. Many of those, including Behn, have since left or have been forced out.
Read Insider’s full investigation of Imperfect Foods’ operations here.
Are you a current or former Imperfect Foods employee with insight to share? Got a tip? Contact these reporters via email at [email protected] and [email protected] or via Twitter DM at @abitterjourno and @fastfoodmaven.