Misfit Market

The importance of first impressions cannot be emphasised more. Due to this notion, we struggle to look like commoners because we believe that the opinion one forms about us in the beginning forever sticks with us. Even in a consumerist country like the United States of America, there is an insistence that a product should look good. Due to quality and standard norms, even if an item looks slightly different, it does not find a place in their supermarkets or malls. Especially natural items, like vegetables, fruits, etc. can be of different sizes. But in the US, they are considered to be ugly. Small shops and firms are not an exception to this rule either. As a result, many tons of such goods are discarded by the farmers since they become unsellable. However, not all that looks different should be discarded. Abhi Ramesh, an Indian entrepreneur from Philadelphia, has built ‘Misfit Market’, a multi-million dollar business, on this principle. While on a field trip to an apple orchard, he found hundreds of apples dumped in the soil. Upon enquiry, he was told that although these fruits were tasty, they differed in appearance by being slightly smaller/larger. Hence, they were not accepted in big markets. They were either given to other industries to make juices, jams, or were eventually thrown away. This is because such food processing industries have their own gardens, hence, they don’t have to source much goods from outside. After getting some information, it was found that even the best vegetables were expelled from the markets within a few days since the date stamp was mandatory on them. Basically, agribusiness is a very low profit enterprise dealing in perishable commodities. There is a big supply chain for that. Thus, it is difficult to break the cycle of vendors, stalls, godowns, transporters and big malls and get support from anyone to do something different. ‘Misfit Market’ had to set up its own system in order to buy such goods. In three years, their business grew rapidly.

Customers order online and the items are delivered to them at home. These items are different and cheaper than the market. So, on one hand, the farmer’s produce which cannot be sold elsewhere gets a market, and on the other hand, the consumer can get these necessities at a lower price. In just three years, this company provided 60 farmers with an income of one and a half million dollars. On the other hand, food was also saved from going to waste. Started by just four people, this company now employs more than 1000 people. Their mission is to prevent undue wastage and provide affordable food to people. In India, there is still no method of applying date stamps on vegetables and fruits, but the rate of wastage is not low. In 2021, the amount of food waste in India was 7 crore tonnes. With India at the bottom of the hunger index, addressing the issue of food security requires as much effort as possible. In such a situation, it will be beneficial if budding entrepreneurs start such a business in India by taking inspiration from this story.

This article by Dr. Lalitagauri Kulkarni was originally published in Marathi in Sakal Newspaper on November 07, 2023.