The votes are in for Refrigerated & Frozen Foods2017 Best New Retail Products contest. Congratulations to Hy-Vee, Inc., West Des Moines, Iowa, and Robinson Fresh, Eden Prairie, Minn., for nabbing fifth place for its “ugly produce.”

Marina Mayer, editor-in-chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods and the creator of the Best New Retail Products contest, talked exclusively with John Griesenbrock, vice president of produce/HealthMarkets for Hy-Vee, and Jim Lemke, president of Robinson Fresh, to discuss the “winning” product and what’s in store for the future.


Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: First off, congratulations on placing FIFTH PLACE in Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 2017 Best New Retail Products contest. Hy-Vee and Robinson Fresh’s unique line of Misfits produce nabbed 3,553 votes. What does this recognition mean to you, your company, your products and your consumers?

John Griesenbrock: We greatly appreciate the recognition for offering Misfits produce throughout our more than 240 stores. Partnering with Robinson Fresh was an easy decision for us because we knew that it was the right thing to do. Limiting food waste by offering “not perfect” produce is resonating well with our customers and offering a value to them as an added bonus. 

Jim Lemke: The Misfits program started because we listened to our customers and consumers. We developed a program that would help reduce food waste for farmers and retailers, provide healthy, quality produce for a reasonable price, all while providing consistent value. Hy-Vee has understood that this trifecta of the program is critical to its success, and they’ve been great to work with along the way.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: How did you go about accruing so many votes? What was your plan?

Griesenbrock: We shared the contest throughout our office and asked our staff to vote for the Misfits program. We have a great group of employees who really believe in this program, so they shared it with their friends and family to help us get additional votes.

Lemke: Our team did the same — we shared the message of the contest and our program through our internal networks and our social channels. There’s a great following of the program both internally and externally. It was an honor just to be nominated.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: Your new retail product—Misfits ugly produce—was nominated by Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ editor-in-chief, Marina Mayer. What features does this new product hold that would allow it to even be nominated?

Griesenbrock: More than 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year due to minimum quality standards. It is estimated that 20-40% of farmers’ harvests each year is discarded because the products don’t meet store shelf standards. Robinson Fresh and Hy-Vee believe we can take some of the produce that goes to the landfill out of the equation by partnering to promote misfit or “ugly” produce. We are working hard to do our part to help meet the USDA’s goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. In addition to the landfill diversion, we are able to offer this produce at 30% less than traditional fruit and vegetable prices.

Lemke: The Misfits program is very different now than it was when we first started — it’s grown and evolved. One thing we’ve learned from trialing this program is that it truly needs to be holistic. It’s paramount to the success of the program to have collaboration at all levels of the organization. Before launching the Misfits program with any retailer, we make sure they are supportive of the pricing model, the sustainability component, the branding and the cadence of receiving the produce. As Griesenbrock mentioned, all of these elements are important to Hy-Vee, and that’s why it’s been a great product with this company.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: What is ugly produce? Why develop this line? What does this new product say about the future of produce?

Griesenbrock: Hy-Vee partnered with Robinson Fresh to bring rescued produce to our 8-state region in an effort to help growers sell their entire crop, while making fruit and vegetables more accessible and affordable to our customers.

Lemke: We sometimes call this ugly produce “cosmetically challenged.” This means the produce is quality, tasty produce, but might have a few blemishes or is misshapen. We see this as a sign for what the next generation of consumers is looking for — a more but meaningful food supply. As produce demand becomes more complex and localized, we look to work with retailers like Hy-Vee to meet the demands of consumers.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: Any unique features to the product’s packaging?

Griesenbrock: The packaging it quite clever. It features a cartoon-like character of what imperfect produce may look like. The package also calls the products “Misfits” but notes that they are “Beautifully Delicious and Nutritious.”

Lemke: The Misfits packaging helps make the cosmetically challenged acceptable. Utilizing a cohesive brand helps consumers know what to expect, just like any brand they trust. For a brand like Misfits that does not follow conventional U.S. produce norms, it’s especially important to build consistency where possible. Another key benefit of the unique packaging is that it differentiates the Misfits products from traditional fresh produce. From a consumer perspective, the Misfits packaging and brand helps reinforce the message of food rescue and sustainability.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: What is on the horizon for your company come 2018?

Griesenbrock: Hy-Vee’s continued focus is on making a difference. Sustainability is top of mind every day as we plan for the next 50 years and beyond. In addition to Misfits, our One Step products, new store formats, community gardens and so much more ensure that Hy-Vee remains a great corporate citizen. It’s easy for us to be all in because we believe in all of it.

Lemke: Robinson Fresh will continue to provide great solutions for our customers, growers, industry and community. In 2018, we hope to continue to grow our Misfits program and other programs that ultimately put more fresh produce in the hands of consumers.