Inspect the lettuce; study the pears. Americans like their fruits and veggies fresh. But what about pretty? Grocery stores have tried pushing less-than-perfect foods. Sadly, folks aren’t buying. Has “ugly produce” reached the end of its shelf life?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that almost a third of the nation’s food supply goes uneaten. That total doesn’t include fruits and veggies tossed away right at the farm, before the food reaches stores. Some is merely off-sized or slightly discolored. Fruits and vegetables that don’t meet supermarket standards often head to food banks or get processed for products like juices.
Jesus told the disciples to gather food fragments at the feeding of the 5,000 “so that nothing [would] be lost.” (John 6:12) Perhaps just as interesting is how God chooses what is “low and despised” to bring glory to Himself. (1 Corinthians 1:28)
For years, retailers have tried selling slightly odd-colored or misshapen fruits and veggies that might otherwise have been trashed. But Walmart, Whole Foods, and others have quietly ended the experiment. They say dented apples and undersized potatoes can’t compete with flawless specimens.
Other chains have pulled the plug on ugly produce too. Giant Eagle in Pennsylvania cited “inconsistent customer interest” for nixing its “Produce with Personality.”
“Customers didn’t accept it as much as we had hoped,” says Mona Golub of Price Chopper, another grocery chain no longer carrying ugly food.
Still, some stores haven’t given up on subpar produce. At a Hy-Vee store in Iowa, a display of “Misfits” includes apples, lemons, and oranges that were too big, too small, or otherwise second-rate in appearance.
“I like the cost savings, and it is good to help and not throw so much away,” says shopper Brian Tice, who bought a pack of dwarf-ish oranges.
Misfits supplier Robinson Fresh says about 300 grocery locations still sell off-perfect fruits and vegetables. Kroger plans to introduce “Pickuliar Picks” this spring.
Shopper preferences may not be the only challenge for ugly produce. “Retailers really prize their produce sections,” says Imperfect Produce CEO Ben Simon. He says some grocers worry that cheaper produce hurts sales of regular produce or reflect a bad store image.
Evan Lutz, CEO of food delivery service Hungry Harvest, says most ugly produce isn’t unusable: “The vast majority that would go to waste isn’t really that ugly.” Perhaps food beauty is in the eye of the beholder.