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The Ugly Produce Revolution: Food Waste Reduction

Ugly produce ruled the news pages in 2016 and continues to be a hot topic in 2017. Today, consumers have more access to information and processes than ever before. With concerns regarding the environment and food waste, processes behind the sale of produce came into question.

I feel pretty… oh, so pretty…

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One commonality in any effort to sell products or services is to make it as attractive as possible. Display and packaging are the top factors when influencing commodity popularity. Ultimately, consumers want the best product for their money and often times they rely on aesthetics to make that choice. Aesthetics are particularly vital to consumers shopping for fresh produce, which often results in unnecessary food waste.

Let’s paint this picture…the aisles are filled with carefully chosen fruits and vegetables piled in neat heaps with coinciding signage. Perfectly shaped with no imperfections, the bright colors are stacked high next to their produce brethren. How did this perfection come to be you ask? Each fruit and vegetable is carefully inspected and put through a rigorous specification process. The fruits and vegetables that are misshapen or those with bruising get rejected. In fact, nearly 25% of each crop is being wasted when it doesn’t meet the specifications.

The Problem

This is where the problem lies. Food waste is often overlooked and seen as the “cost of doing business.” Stores believe that consumers do not want to purchase produce that is any less than what they deem to be aesthetically pleasing. However, consumers are asking more questions about where their food is coming from and the processes of the food industry in general. Today, there is much more research available at consumer fingertips that educates them about food industry practices.

The Washington Post, published an article that put food waste into perspective. According to their article, How the U.S. manages to waste $165 billion in food each year, USDA research shows that these produce specification practices are causing supermarkets to toss an estimated $15 billion dollars per year in unsold fruits and vegetables. But they are not the only offenders, restaurants and other foodservice providers overstock their inventory, so that all menu items are readily available. This often leads to waste of perishables before they ever leave the kitchen. Yet, perhaps one of the largest group offenders are U.S. households, who throw away 14-25% of food that they buy. Perishables being a large part of that percentage.

The Solution

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This information spawned a series of questions… How can we help reduce food waste? How can we convince retail to stop wasting food because it’s aesthetically unappealing? How can we influence the food industry to stop ignoring this travesty and to take action to correct it? Well these efforts have already begun, and it’s a revolution that embraces “ugly” fruits and vegetables. In California, Imperfect Produce sources produce from local farms, boxes up misshaped or “ugly” produce and ships it to homes at a discount. In January of 2016, The Ugly Produce is Beautiful Educational Campaign began. This campaign creates awareness in the food industry by increasing the consumption of ugly fruits and vegetables and; therefore, reducing food waste and greenhouse emissions.

In addition, retail has been making efforts reduce food waste by offering value-added products, like fruit trays or cups or packaged veggies that are pre-cut for convenience. Many supermarkets are cutting fresh produce in the back of the house, offering fresh-cut selections. They are able to cut away the imperfections and use the remainder of the fruits or vegetables. Value-added products are growing in popularity because consumers are demanding more convenience.

NatureSeal for Foodservice has continued to be a game changer for value-added produce. With the ability to extend the shelf-life of fresh cut produce, NatureSeal has allowed retail and foodservice to reduce waste, while saving money. The NatureSeal product line has truly revolutionized the fresh cut industry, with benefits to the environment. Because fresh is simple.

With changing consumer perspectives on fresh foods and food waste, aesthetics are becoming less of a factor and ugly is in!