ReInventing the Produce Aisle with Ugly Fruit

Recently, Walmart announced its intention to sell imperfect produce. 

This is big news because a) Walmart is the largest food retailer in America and b) “ugly fruit” as it’s known, used to be destined for processing, the compost pile, or, worse yet, the landfill.  Imperfect produce never made it to the grocery store because consumers demand (or used to demand) pretty produce. 

Other grocery stores are sure to follow.  I predict the trend will grow, spill into other food items (think crooked carrots or misshapen tomatoes), and be a profitable sub category. 

Some Agricultural types may not like this, fearing less demand for pretty produce as what was formerly wasted will now be consumed.  But, again, much of the ugly fruit likely ended up as apple sauce or shredded carrots anyway.  Meaning, it probably won’t change overall demand much.  Plus, it promises a potentially higher margin marketplace for produce that was formerly on the verge of by-product. 

Another reason this trend will flourish: we are in an environment of environmentalism.  Consumers purchase products that meld with their concept of social consciousness.  Buying ugly fruit allows the upscale consumer to demonstrate they can look past imperfections in the name of preventing food waste. 

From Chipotle to Starbucks to Prius drivers, social consciousness is a hot seller.  It’s the cornerstone of Whole Foods marketing campaign.  Ag needs to do more to market its product this way.  Our affluent consumers will reward us with money and positive PR as we demonstrate we are doing what we can to be environmentally friendly and reduce waste. 

Need another example of why ugly fruit will play well with consumers?  Think of man’s best friend.  A couple decades ago, the affluent suburbanite took pride in his or her purebred dog.  Now it’s a badge of honor to tell people as you walk Fido that Fido is a mutt; a rescue dog you saved from the shelter. 

“Ugly fruit” is the food equivalent of a rescue dog with no pedigree.  That blemished apple won’t lick your face or snuggle at the foot of the bed, but it will make Mr. and Mrs. Consumer feel good that they “saved” it from the discard pile. 

Walmart is reinventing the produce aisle via socially conscious food marketing.  It won’t be pretty or perfect, but it will be profitable!

Damian Mason is an Agriculturalist and Business ReInvention expert.  Find him at www.damianmason.com