Profiling leaders in climate action: Kelly Nigh, Misfits Market

Kelly Nigh photo

Kelly Nigh is the Chief Merchandising Officer at Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods (which joined the Misfits family in October 2022). Misfits Market is an online grocer dedicated to making affordable, high-quality food more accessible while helping break the cycle of food waste.

How does climate work factor into your role?

As Chief Merchandising Officer, my team and I are responsible for the buying and selling of products that align with Misfits Market’s mission to reduce our impact on the climate. We know that 35% of the food produced in the United States goes to waste, and the carbon footprint of this waste is greater than that of the global airline industry. We work directly with farmers to buy “off specification” produce that tastes good but is rejected by standard grocers for cosmetic reasons, like sizing or discoloration. By creating a market for this produce, we are reducing food waste and the emissions associated with it.

We also want to ensure we can meet customers' weekly grocery needs, so beyond produce we focus on offering products that also lead to better outcomes including packaged goods that are at risk of not finding a home due to reasons such as being too close to their expiration date or misprinted packaging. My team also sources products that promote better food systems such as items with upcycled ingredients or items produced using regenerative agriculture. Beyond what goes into a customer’s box, we also invest time in optimizing our last mile routing and minimizing our packaging.

What value does climate work bring to Misfits Market?

Prioritizing climate is good business for us. This shows up in a couple different ways depending on the category of product.  Our customers are interested in putting their dollars toward better outcomes for the environment, but they often don’t know how to navigate the food industry and its many different standards. For produce, we purchase items that would otherwise be wasted at a lower cost from suppliers, and we’re able to pass that cost savings onto our customers.  For our consumer packaged goods (CPGs) products, we curate a selection of items that our customers can trust are having a positive impact on the climate. Part of our work is to educate our customers about the carbon emissions or water savings associated with the items we’re offering because this information motivates their behavior.

Our work is also helping farmers grow their businesses. Lakeside Organics, one of the largest organic farms in the United States, was able to expand its crop by about 20% since they began working with Misfits Market. With the market that we’ve created for off specification produce, they have a higher degree of confidence that their extra crop is going to find a home.

Prioritizing climate is good business for us.

Kelly Nigh

Where do you go to learn more about climate or hear the latest news?

In addition to our Sustainability team, I rely a lot on ReFed, the foremost research group on food waste. Their data helps us identify where the most food waste is happening, and thus where we should focus our time.

What advice do you have for others who want to drive change within their companies?

Set clear goals that help drive your behavior. We have a target for how many millions of pounds of food we want to save in a given year. At times, this leads us to buy a product at a slightly higher cost than usual if it has an outsized benefit to our food waste reduction goal.

Also, small steps add up. There isn't a playbook for a lot of our work yet, so we set pragmatic targets and take our work step by step to reach them. Stay focused on being an agent of change in your company.

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