A growing movement calls for eating “ugly” fruits and vegetables to help combat America’s staggering food waste problem. Jordan Figueiredo, the founder of the Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign believes the public has ''a huge misconception that if there is a mark on it, it’s not good,” therefore almost half of all produce is wasted.
Figueiredo, whose activism includes posting photos of funny looking fruits and vegetables on social media and encouraging grocery stores to carry ugly produce, was in Yakima last week to visit Tree Top, the region’s largest fruit processer.
Tree Top spokeswoman Sharon Miracle said that the company has been making use of ugly fruit long before it was hip.
“That’s why we exist,” she said. “Our growers wanted a place to take fruit that’s not pretty enough for the fresh market and we are here to provide fruit products that value that fruit.”
Every year, the company processes more than 600 million pounds of “ugly” apples into juice, applesauce, peeled apple slices, and dried fruit that’s used in cereal, granola bars, and other products. That’s just over 10 percent of Washington’s apple harvest, while the rest goes primarily to the fresh market, domestic and exports.
“One of the reasons I’m excited to work with Tree Top is that they are one of the few companies talking about this, saying, ugly produce is OK, look, we’re already eating it,” Figueiredo said on Friday 16 September at a tour of the facility, where he scoured bins of freckled golden delicious apples and undersized galas for funny shaped fruit.
Thanks to processors like Tree Top, edible apples grown in the Yakima Valley are rarely wasted, said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
But for growers, selling to a juice processor yields far less return for their fruit than selling to the fresh market.
That’s what some are embracing the “ugly fruit and veg” trend to try to sell cosmetically damaged fruit fresh.
This year, Columbia Marketing International, a Wentachee-based marketing company representing Washington growers and packers, launched its “I’m Perfect” brand to market imperfect fruit to consumers.
“Our take on it was to take advantage of this ugly fruit trend, to leverage that to say this is some fruit that has some blemishes, but it really does taste good,” said Steve Lutz, CMI vice president of sales. “It’s been pretty encouraging, just from the number of retailers that have expressed interest.”
Most of the apples sold under the “I’m Perfect” brand this year will be from orchards in the Quincy area that suffered hail damage, which leaves scars on the skin, Lutz said.