We all know that when dealing with fresh produce we are dealing with mother nature. Weather conditions aren’t always perfect and therfore neither is some of the fruit. These so-called "ugly fruit" are a fact of life for growers. With light external defects, discoloration or misshapen, they may not be pretty, but they're still perfectly tasty, just as nutritious and until recently they weren’t available at the supermarket.
Despite the taste and quality of ugly fruit, imperfect produce often ends up as juice or left to rot somewhere. According to an analysis by Refed, a coalition that assesses food waste and aims to find solutions, every year in the United States; consumers, businesses, and farms spend around $218 billion a year growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten. Not only does this result in lost revenue for growers and packhouses, it contributes to the mounting problem of global food waste.
It's not exactly known how much produce gets tossed because of cosmetic imperfections, and losses vary from crop to crop, according to JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate for food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council. But, "we've typically found that growers reported [cosmetic-related] losses ranging up to 20 percent of production in a given year, but it could be higher in years of bad weather." For apples, blemish-related losses can reach as high as 30 percent, according to data from Columbia Marketing International.
Of late, ugly fruit and vegetables have been gaining a host of admirers. Huge effort has been made to keep these cosmetically challenged foods from finding themselves in a landfill because they don't meet retailers' beauty standards. As awareness of massive food waste grows, major retailers are now experimenting with sales of less-than-perfect produce that may otherwise be wasted.
America’s largest grocer, Walmart, is teaming up with a brand of apples from Washington state, called “I’m Perfect” to bring apples which are less than cosmetically perfect to their stores, rather than throwing them away. These healthy-but-weather-damaged apples come in varieties from Granny Smith to Red Delicious and are being sold at a discount in two and five pound bags at 300 Florida stores with more locations possible later.
Additionally, Whole Foods has collaborated with Imperfect Produce to introduce ugly produce in stores in Northern California. Giant Eagle, a Pittsburgh-based food retailer with more than 420 locations, earlier this year launched a program in its hometown market to sell ugly oranges, apples and potatoes.
The ugly produce movement is making waves in the fresh produce industry and giving perfectly nutritious and tasty fruit a second chance at grocer shelves. Selling weather-blemished and misshapen fruit at a discount, rather than discarding it, is a step forward to solving the global food waste problem, lowers the barrier to affordable, healthy food for many and allows growers and packhouse operators to increase their returns.
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