If you are a foodie and have your social media feeds set to get news about anything to do with fresh fruits and vegetables, you have probably witnessed some very ugly posts over the past couple of years. Gross, distorted and repulsive are some of the words used to describe the images that have spewed forth from a new “ugly” movement. Not only do these pictures tend to make one shun their eyes, but at times they border on pornographic. But at Produce Buzz we are thrilled it is happening and hopes it gains even more momentum!
Sorry if we misled you, but we are not talking about the latest fetish from the adult film industry or nasty barbs from some extreme political party. We are talking about “ugly” fruits and vegetables. These are those produce items that are misshapen and/or off color and years ago would have been culled out by growers and shippers of fresh produce because the grocery stores could not sell them to their customers. And face it, you know you’ve seen pics of those slightly pornographic ones online: carrots and squash with highly suggestive anatomic parts. You’ve laughed at them but have you bought one yet? Probably not because most grocery stores couldn’t get away with stocking on their produce racks.
But thanks to several groups around the world who are working to end food waste, consumers are being re-educated to learn that a misshapen veggie may be just as good or better than the perfectly proportioned version.
Yes, the ugly fruit and veggie movement is strong and getting stronger every week. It’s a very positive trend that hopefully will greatly diminish the estimated 50% of fruits and vegetables that are wasted as they go from the farm to the plate. The United Nations FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) estimates that the land used to grow food that is eventually wasted amounts to 30% of the world’s agricultural land area and the water needed for them equates to the annual discharge of the Volga River. So the need to lessen this environmental impact is coming to the attention of many in the world’s food supply chain.
Many grocery stores are doing their part to buy these once discarded products. And not only buy them but to aggressively market them in stores to their customers. While a few grocery chains in the U.K. were ahead of the big push, the movement started first in a big way in Europe about three years ago. A campaign called “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” was launched in France with some humorous ads and publicity. Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, teamed up with UK grocery ASDA with the tagline “Beautiful on the Inside” and soon everyone in Britain was talking about “wonky” veggies. Down Under, Woolworths launched their “Odd Bunch in Australia” marketing efforts and it suddenly it was a worldwide movement.
The U.S. was slower to get involved, but once it got started, a good number of the major grocery chains jumped on board. Last year Giant Eagle, Hannaford, Whole Foods, Hy-Vee and even Walmart had their own versions of ugly produce on their shelves. And brands who specialize in ugly produce are starting to emerge. One brand called “Misfits” is now distributed in over 300 stores across the U.S.
Now there are similar marketing efforts spreading around the world. Sixteen countries have grocery stores pushing these former veggie outcasts, including Canada, Spain, Belgium, Sweden and South Africa. So the movement is an unquestionable success, but advocates for it say much more needs to be done.
Jordan Figueiredo, a Huffington Post contributor and self-proclaimed “Ugly Produce Expert,” says that, “…more than 20% of the world’s produce is left at the farm, mostly for cosmetic reasons. In addition, there is so much wasted food along the way to the store and at the store as well. Small pilots or programs for ugly produce, while great steps in the right direction, and let’s be honest – great publicity for supermarkets, will never be enough.” He believes that consumers need to demand from retailers transparency in their supply chains. “How else will these problems be solved unless they’re measured and held accountable for?”
Demanding transparency may help, but for now consumers can do their part by buying the produce misfits on the shelves at their local stores and asking for more of them. Grocery stores have learned to listen to their customers and respond. They have to in order to compete in an increasingly competitive retail space that is being encroached upon by online platforms.
So keep an eye out for those ugly, distorted and misshapen fruits and veggies, not just through your Twitter feed but on your local produce rack and try them out. You’ll be helping to solve the food waste problem and at the same time getting great value and nutrition, a bonus for your pocket book and your health.