Opting for Imperfection

March 20, 2018

Food & Drink International | March 20, 2018 – Would you buy a less-than-perfectly round apple or a knobby, twisted carrot? What if it was up to 30 percent cheaper than traditional grocery store produce and had an environmental benefit? If you’re like a growing number of consumers, these benefits might just have you coming around to the idea of opting in for “ugly” produce.

As sales of fresh categories continue to increase and more consumers seek out products that are socially responsible and as close to nature as possible, imperfect or “ugly” produce programs are set to be the next wave of growth. Approximately 20 percent of produce grown in the United States is wasted because it is deemed not attractive enough to sell in retail stores.

The always-popular baby carrot is just one prime example of the lengths producers have gone to turn ugly produce into something desirable for the masses. In 1986, baby carrots were created as a marketing tactic to sell the imperfect carrots that supermarkets wouldn’t buy and shoppers wouldn’t deign to eat.

In an attempt to give the ugly carrots a second chance, carrot farmer Mike Yurosek created polished carrot sticks that were an instant hit and are still loved today. In many ways, baby carrots have helped make the carrot industry less wasteful now that pre-packaged baby carrots make up nearly 70 percent of all carrot sales, according to The Washington Post. However, the push to lessen waste is no longer a behind-the-scenes job.

Reducing Waste

Rather than being wasteful, some grocery stores have begun to put out baskets of their cosmetically less-than-perfect produce at heavily discounted prices to avoid throwing it away. As more consumers have become aware of the benefits of this imperfect produce – how it’s still healthy and tasty and helps reduce waste – the popularity of the concept has started to grow.

The idea of an imperfect produce basket has even launched a new online business in the form of a home delivery service. San Francisco-based Imperfect Produce is arguably the current leader in this space. The company started in 2015 with the goal of reducing food waste by encouraging consumers to buy the less-than-perfect produce that would typically be discarded.

With the tagline “Ugly Produce. Delivered,” Imperfect Produce keeps its business proposition simple. The company delivers less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables directly to consumers’ homes at prices lower than they would pay for regular (“perfect”) offerings found at traditional grocery stores.

Taking advantage of the fact that imperfect produce is usually at least 30 percent cheaper than standard produce, online businesses like this are able to offer the convenience of home delivery without the upcharge. As these models expand, traditional retailers could find their produce sales shrinking – unless they develop their own programs to compete.

This doesn’t mean simply offering shoppers a small basket of blemished produce that would normally be considered shrink. Instead, it means deliberately sourcing less-than-perfect produce and developing a program to market it to consumers. A lower price is going to be what grabs shoppers’ attention first, but there’s also an opportunity to help educate consumers on the benefits of reducing waste, and in some cases, about what’s not in this produce that may be in conventional versions.

Having a program like this goes far beyond reducing food waste, offering one more way for retailers to differentiate, develop goodwill with consumers and increase sales, and now is the time to act. The retailers that implement the trend first are going to be the ones that really gain with consumers. This is what consumers are looking for and they’ll reward the retailers who offer it first by spending more share of their produce dollars at those stores.

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