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Reilly Brock
Imperfect Foods

We are speaking with Reilly Brock, the former associate creative director at Imperfect Foods. Imperfect Foods is a DTC brand that was founded to fight food waste by finding a home for the imperfect or “ugly” fruits and vegetables that farms couldn’t sell to grocery stores. This is one of Jonathan’s favorite subjects and we will be diving into how you can reduce food waste in your own home, Imperfect Foods efforts to create a sustainable business while talking through the role a creative director has and how Reilly uses creativity to educate consumers.

ReilIy has had an eclectic career from cooking tacos in food trucks to apprenticing through Europe and working at places like Mission Chinese food in SF. Following his passion for food he ultimately found that the lifestyle as a chef wasn’t sustainable. Thereafter he pivoted to event planning and content marketing as a way to marry reading, writing and storytelling with his love for food.

After he joined Imperfect, he learned to look upstream. It was eye opening to see all the stuff in the walk in fridge and think about how farmers would have outcomes of throwing away due to not being able to distribute it. All of us make choices about how we use food in our homes. We can all be that bridge between people who care about waste reduction part time and full time. Showing people at home, there’s some common sense ways you can prevent waste before it starts.

His role is the translator and storyteller between different worlds where customers can understand the scope and how we can all push ourselves to make a bigger impact. He talks about how 40% of waste in the supply chain happens in our homes. The top thing is shopping with intention and a plan. If you look at things that go to waste, its impulse buys — hopeful kale purchasing.

He advises to plan with the shelf life of your ingredients in mind. Prioritizing that over what you feel like eating for dinner. Herbs go to waste and it makes sense; they’re tender, fragile and the recipe usually doesn’t’ call for the entire bunch so what do you do with parts you can’t fully use?

He also advises to clean your fridge at least once a month and to get comfortable with rescue recipes that absorb ingredients from other recipes that can collect the motley crew of odds and ends.

Early in his career, he was focused on “asset up” – executing at a velocity to keep telling a story one piece of content at a time. Over time he has realized that it should be strategy-down. It’s tough because it takes people. A well-balanced team of strategic, and organizational thinkers, allows for awesome cross channel pushes. It takes more time and energy but allows for more impact. One part of his strategy is he tries to remember it’s a two way street – it should be about us learning. When something doesn’t get as much engagement, it’s a great sign to learn, iterate and adapt. When you get comments from the community, that’s free data and learnings as a creative to run with and lean on.

Their open kitchen series is filled with amazing, thoughtful questions which pushed him to learn and solve. What are actual pain points and not just what are my goals for them to hear from them. It’s about listening as much as it is a plan. Unfortunately, they don’t teach you a lot about the environment in school. He learned relatively recently what all the numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles mean. Unfortunately, not all plastics are easily recyclable. We learned recently we need to educate people. Knowing what’s in what you’re consuming is unfortunately a really opaque landscape.

Democratizing knowledge is fun to do as a mission driven brand. On the flip side, it’s frustrating – companies can make it so hard for people to know what to do with materials that are hard or impossible to recycle. It’s on YOU, consumers, to figure out what to do with them. It’s hard to have to wade through it all. How do you make the right choice an easier choice to make? Real power is not to choose from a menu of options, but to create a menu of options. The real power is the people who choose what is or is not at the store. Stuff that is fantastic isn’t even making it to the stores when it can/should be sold at retail.

Their sustainability team has been exploring giving people a better default option. We’re currently more or less the only company that makes it free/easy to recycle from your doorstep. Between delivery and packaging, they are exploring ways to cut that down. Insulated liners and gel packs are things you can’t reuse around the house. They wanted to liberate people from gel pack freezer tetris and did an 80/20 analysis. They found it was these that are the biggest headache so after drop off they will take back the packs. The win was making a circular system despite how complicated it was. It requires customers to be meaningfully involved every week. But, a huge win to offer a better default option that closes the loop on a wasteful thing.

They realized a bigger opportunity to make a scalable impact if they could be a full grocery store. They saw it as a chance to be a more meaningful part of customer’s lives and shift from a niche thing to add to shopping experience to being a majority par.
It’s a balance to show that we’re broadening and enhancing as opposed to changing.

What is the throughline and how can I tell some new stories about our enhancements but that the DNA of our company is alive and well and intact. A huge reason food goes to waste in people’s homes is due to dates — dates are conservaate estimates of peak quality, not hard and fast predictions of food safety. Dates are usually designated at the state level. That, plus best buy, use by, sell by. When youre talking about canned beans or dried quinoa, evoo etc — the date is one piece of data, but it’s not the only or most important one. Use your common sense, best judgement and ability to research as well as senses to tell if it’s still good to eat.