Whole Foods Is Experimenting with Ugly Fruits and Vegetables

By James Oliver Cury Posted March 08, 2016

Reduces waste, lowers prices, and helps farmers sell more.

Have you been running across more misshapen potatoes than ever before? Do carrots seemed more crooked? It's not just you: Farmers markets have offered anomalous produce for years, but now some stores across the country are selling less-than-perfect fruit and veggies—and Whole Foods just announced it's playing in the weird-lookin' food sandbox too.

The supermarket chain, in conjunction with Imperfect Produce, will begin to sell cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables in a few Northern California stores starting in April. Whole Foods already makes use of not-conventionally-pretty produce in its prepared foods and juices and smoothie bars—and they have in-store composting. The company started feeling some pressure last year from a Change.org petition that garnered more than 100,000 signatures.

Finding new markets for ugly produce solves several problems at one time. First, it reduces the amount of food waste. NPR estimates that between 5 and 30% of a harvest can wind up in landfill. That's shamefully inefficient. Second, funky foods sell for less, making healthy fruits and veggies accessible to more consumers on a budget. At Giant Eagle supermarkets in Pennsylvania, a chain that's also embracing the "surplus" market, a 4-pound bag of blemished navel oranges costs $2.99 while the usual bag goes for $4.99.

Finally, farmers should be able to make more money if they can sell more of their product. Frankly, some of the best-tasting food I've ever had started out looking bulbous and bizarre: If you've ever tasted an oblong, freaky, heirloom tomato, then you know what I mean. To see some unusually beautiful, misshapen foods—carrots embracing, tomatoes kissing—check out the photos at endfoodwaste.org. And definitely watch former F&W editor in chief Dana Cowin's excellent Ted Talk: How Ugly, Unloved Food Can Change the World.


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