Quick note: While there is a “referral” link to give you 25% off your first box, this review is in no way sponsored or solicited. If you really don’t like the idea of referral/affiliate links (I get it, they’re weird), go ahead and use the code “MISFITSWELCOME” for 25% off. That’s the generic welcome coupon, no associated affiliation with me.
Quicker note: Real-life legit journalist Erin Negley is writing an article about “ugly” produce boxes in general, so if you want more information and less opinion, keep an eye out for her piece here.
I don’t usually get suckered in by social media adds, mostly because I know I’m trying be suckered, but recently I kept seeing an add for “ugly” produce that was being sold more cheaply than in the grocery store. I like cheap, so I decided to investigate.
The add was for Misfits Market (MM), a subscription box that sends you a box of fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste because it’s too big or small or misshapen or bruised or has been over-ordered for the grocery store (currently, 40–50% of all produce grown is sent to the landfill because of this). So they’re reducing food waste, which is great! I was also interested in trying to eat more vegetables, because I tend to buy the same 5 vegetables to make the same 10-15 meals, and that gets boring fast. The last hook for me was that all of the produce is sourced from small to medium local farms (EDIT: In my last MM box, some of the produce had stickers from A & A Organic Farms, a distributer from California that works with small to medium farms in CALIFORNIA and MEXICO. So it seems that “local” is a relative word). It seemed like a cool idea, and it was pretty inexpensive (I’ll get to cost in a minute), so I decided to give it a try. If you care to know, the fruits and vegetables are organic and non-GMO. That wasn’t a selling point for me because I usually buy “conventional” anyway, but I know that’s incredibly important to some.
How it works:
I ordered the Mischief Box for $19 (my first box was $14.25 with coupon), plus $4.50 shipping. The Mischief Box is the smaller box, containing 10-12 pounds of produce. They also sell a Madness Box for $34, and you can ship every week or every other week. There are also options for a one-time purchase, as a gift or to try the service, at an up-charge. I chose every other week because most of the reviews said that the boxes contained a lot of food, and I’m only cooking for 2 people, so I assumed it would last.
As a note, currently MM only services PA, NY, CT, and DE, though they are working to expand to other states in the Northeast US. There are other produce boxes that deliver to the West and Mid-US.
You can’t pick every single item that goes into your box, but you’re not receiving the box completely blind either. MM keeps an updated list of the current fruits and vegetables included in the boxes, updated as availability changes. You can also contact the company via e-mail if there’s a particular item you would prefer to have included, or you need allergy considerations. When the box comes, your produce is in pretty minimal packaging. You have the cardboard box, cornstarch-based insulators, plastic wrapping, and compostable produce bags around things that need a little more protecting. MM claims that all packaging is either recyclable or compostable in an attempt to reduce the impact of shipping (the insulators actually dissolve in hot water, which is fun). This seems to be a change from the meal-subscription boxes, which I’ve avoided because of the gross amount of over-packaging they seem to contain (and the price. $10 per person per meal is just too much for eating at home).
Now on to what came in my box. I waited to receive 2 boxes so I could make a more informed decision; Here is a list of contents, and what I made or plan to make with the ingredients:
- 1 spaghetti squash: “spaghetti” and meatballs, one of my favorites
- 2 green peppers: stuffed peppers for the boyfriend to eat on my late-working days. I generally hate green peppers
- 1 grapefruit: avocado and grapefruit salad a la Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye
- 1 rather large beet: roasted, with half made into a salad with some feta cheese, and the rest frozen for smoothies
- 3 watermelon radishes: pickled and delicious! I found excuses to put them on everything
- 2 oranges: snacks
- 2 gargantuan onions: used in general cooking. Pretty much everything I cook has some form of onion in it
- 12 russet potatoes: boiled, smashed, fried (you know, potatoe-y things)
- 8 sweet potatoes, orange and purple: roasted, to go with buffalo chicken (the boyfriend and I love this recipe, because its easy, healthy, and delicious)
- 6 carrots: general cooking and snacking
- 4 green apples: snacks
- 14 Roma tomatoes: Fried with eggs, cut up with tacos. These were a bit of a let down. A few were squashed in transit (so I ate them immediately), and while they were super juicy, they didn’t have much flavor, which I guess isn’t a huge surprise because it’s the middle of winter (Who’s growing tomatoes in January?)
Total Cost at regular grocery store: $33.24. I used Walmart’s grocery pickup to assemble a cart of the same items that came in my box, though I chose “conventional” over organic, because that’s what I would buy (obviously organic would be even more expensive). The only thing I couldn’t add to the cart was the spaghetti squash, so I substituted butternut. They’re usually the same price per pound, though spaghetti squash is heavier.
- 2 head romaine lettuce (not from California): salads!! I love salad
- 4 limes: I’ll probably juice these for a salad dressing or a marinade
- 2 onions: Thank goodness! I only have 1/2 of one of my giant onions left, which would probably only be enough for one meal
- 5 carrots: The carrots from the last box were so good, I’ll make carrot sticks to pack in my lunch
- 1 butternut squash: either roasted or made into soup. One day I will make a delicious butternut squash risotto, but it is not this day
- 1 big-ass sweet potato: …what do you even do with a sweet potato this big??? I’ll probably roast it as a replacement for mashed potatoes one night.
- 16 fingerling potatoes: roasted. There’s not much else you can do with these little guys
- 4 green apples: I want to make these into a salad too, with blue cheese and pecans.
- 4 jalapeños: stuffed with corn and cream cheese and cheddar
- 1 bunch of green beans: I know I’m going to plan to cook these up for dinner one night, but it hasn’t even been a day and I’ve already eaten a handful. You can’t beat fresh green beans.
Total Cost at regular grocery store: $23.50 Not as big of a savings as the first box (actually, not any savings at all, since the cost of a Mischief Box including shipping is also $23.50), but again, I was adding only conventional (non-organic) produce from Walmart. The same produce would be $34.68 at my local Giant Eagle.
Not having to go to the store or make extra trips is a pretty big plus for me. I hate grocery shopping, so having the food sent to me is great. And I like that the packaging is minimally wasteful. I think if the food came in a lot of plastic wrapping or boxed up or with those chemical ice packs, I probably wouldn’t have purchased.
I’m also happy with the price. You can see that I did save money compared to if I had bought all of this at the store. I’ve spent $11 on a single spaghetti squash, so I think this is a pretty solid deal. I’m adding a greater variety of foods to my diet while living within my means and I’m supporting a creative solution to food waste and I’m supporting small local farms instead of commercial giants. Pretty solid deal to me.
MM is a relatively new company; they only starting shipping boxes in August 2018. I think so far they have a great thing going. But there are a few things I hope they improve going forward.
Better serving low-income and food desert areas
One thing MM mentions on their website that they can “serve both cities and rural areas that others neglect,” but I think there’s a lot more to that than just shipping vegetables (Don’t get me wrong, though. Making food more accessible to food deserts is a pretty big thing). My income supports spending $40 a month just on fruits and vegetables for 2 people, but that’s not the case for a lot of households. Just in Philadelphia alone, where MM is based, 25% of residents live below the poverty line. Currently, MM doesn’t yet accept EBT/SNAP benefits (though the website currently says they plan to), so they’re not serving a community that traditionally has the biggest problem accessing fresh fruits and vegetables.
As they grow, I need to see MM stick to the plan of accepting EBT/SNAP, and I would also like to see them add a $10 box with either a smaller quantity of produce or more “basic” items that are considered more of a dietary staple (like a box with just potatoes, apples, onions, carrots, oranges) to cater to a wider market of customers. I’m afraid without these considerations, MM will just be another form of self-congratulatory consumerism (I’m looking at *you* Trader Joe’s).
Recipes and food information
I had no idea what a watermelon radish was before I got one in my misfit box. I still have no idea what a “sun choke” is, or how to eat it. I had never in my life roasted a beet or pickled something. I spent a good couple of hours on the internet looking up the unfamiliar vegetables and finding recipes to make sure I wouldn’t be wasting anything in my boxes (specialtyproduce.com is a great resource for this).
Right now, MM has a pretty paltry recipe page, boasting a grand 4 recipe links. I think if MM can manage to update their produce list daily, they can include links to information about the food they’re selling. I’d also like to see a list of the sources they’re getting the produce from. I’m neurotic enough to want to know exactly which farms my purchases are supporting. The website claims that this list changes often due to product availability, but again, if they can update the produce list daily, I think they can manage this also.
Only carrying organic/non-GMO
This might be a little bit nit-picky, but I think it’s a bit obnoxious that MM makes a big deal out of only shipping organic, non-GMO produce (Though they will occasionally include “conventional” produce for free if someone has an excess). Whether or not you believe that organic and non-GMO is better, only about 1% of US farmland is “certified organic”. If MM is going to limit itself to such a small produce market, I wonder how much they’re really impacting the food waste problem. I would love to see them add more “conventional” produce in their boxes, so they can redistribute more food that would otherwise go to waste.
To summarize, I think Misfits Market is off to a good start, but there are ways they could be better – ways which I hope they adopt as their business grows. I plan on keeping my MM subscription for now, and I probably will keep it as long as I can afford it and they hold to the values and goals they have now. Snaps for Misfits Market.