The Imperfect Digest

Educating and connecting our community.

What Makes Produce "Ugly?"

What Makes Produce "Ugly?"

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UGLY. U-G-L-Y. We know, it’s a harsh and potentially confusing term, especially when hurled at our favorite foods. What does “ugly” produce mean, anyway? Here are some of the most common reasons that perfectly good fruits and vegetables get rejected by grocery stores and end up going to waste (unless of course, they end up in your Imperfect box!): 

Size: Too small, too big, too varied

After harvest, produce is sorted according to size, usually based on how many of a given item fits in a standard case. For example, large avocados fit 36 to a case while mediums fit 48 to a case. Like a produce Goldilocks, supermarkets reject tons of produce as too small or too large for their standards. They also reject cases of produce in mixed sizes when they only want to buy one size. We happily source the tiny avocados and cannon-ball sized onions of the world because they taste the same and are just as easy to cook with as “normal” sized produce. 

Asymmetrical Shape: Too misshapen

Supermarkets want produce that fits evenly into display cases, so they can build pristine, symmetrical pyramids to entice buyers. This desire for symmetry means that oddly-shaped produce is deemed inferior. For example, bell peppers that cannot stand straight up are labeled second class peppers, even though a bell pepper doesn’t need to stand up to go in fajitas. Leeks that are too curved, twin kiwis, and lemons that resemble muppets (LTRM) also get spurned because of their unique shapes.

Scarring: Too many marks on the skin/peel

Supermarkets want to buy produce that looks beautiful and unblemished on the outside, which means that lots of scarred fruits and vegetables go to waste, even though they’re perfectly fine inside. Apples with hail damage, pears that brush up against a branch in the wind, and oranges that have had a rough winter can’t go to stores and have to wait for a juicer or processor to show interest before they can find a home. Even if a grower can sell to a juicer or processor, they’ll only get 30-40% of what they’d receive on the fresh market, meaning they used to routinely lose money selling their ugly fruit.

Discoloration: Too different in color from the average

Produce that isn’t uniformly one color often gets undervalued and goes to waste, despite having the same taste and nutrients as brightly colored produce. Uneven colors happen for a variety of reasons, from sunburned melons, to acorn squashes with a blemish from where they touched the ground, to bell peppers that just have a few naturally occuring splotches. 

Lack of a consumer market: Too unpopular

Perfectly good food goes to waste every day simply because there isn’t enough demand. For example, our broccoli leaves are a healthy and delicious part of the broccoli plant that used to get left in the field just because stores only wanted to buy broccoli crowns. The stalk and leaves are over ⅔ of the plant! 

Surplus: Too many

Some of our produce has no cosmetic issues whatsoever and would only go to waste because there is too much of it on the market. It takes a lot of time, money, and resources to pick, chill, package, and ship produce. For example, if the market is flooded with kale or zucchinis, oftentimes they will get left unpicked in the field because it’s actually cheaper than harvesting and transporting them. Thankfully, we have relationships with farmers all over the country so they can give us a call, get a fair price for what they’ve grown, and send their surplus produce off to your Imperfect box. 

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