The Growing Currency of “Ugly” in Shopper Marketing

Mutant carrot or a coveted part of your next meal? Ugly isn’t supposed to be cool. It’s not very marketable. And only when ugly takes off its glasses and everyone realizes it was beautiful all along does ugly really become a great story. Well today, ugly is taking center stage and is culturally ripe for success.Pun intended, as fruits and vegetables are the place ugly is starting it’s rise.

Over the last several months, ugly fruit fever is spreading. Efforts by Ralph’s and WholeFoods have provided cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables to shoppers at discount prices. Food service companies, such as Bon Appetit Management Co., have also started programs designed to buy up uglies and use them in meals across the country. Even America’s largest grocer, Walmart, this week will pilot discount sales of weather-dented apples in 300 of its Florida stores.

Ugly Fruit got its name from the fruit and vegetables that are left to rot at farms either because it’s too “ugly” to sell or farmers grow more than they can sell. A report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicated that each year approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

Start-ups and entrepreneurs are also trying to profit instead of adding uglies to the rubbish pile. Cat Wu, for example, launched her own food startup—a social enterprise calledRe-Harvest Foods that turns unused produce into tasty, healthy snack foods. Her first product is a specialty line of applesauce branded Ugly Fruit. Ugly fruits and veggies also showed up on Shark Week, as entrepreneur Evan Lutz attempted to get funding for an ugly fruit with a purpose project.

Online, homely produce has received lots of viral love. A twitter account, @uglyfruitandveg, raises awareness of food waste through entertaining ways of showing ugly fruits and vegetables. There is even research seeking to determine if unsightly scars on the outside of fruit actually reflect higher nutrition within.

All-in-all, ugly fruits and veg appears to be a winning proposition for activists interested in fighting food waste, farmers interested in selling more, shoppers interested in less expensive produce, and retailers looking to meet the needs of their shoppers.What started in Europe with the Inglorious fruits and vegetables campaign has catapulted into a growing trend. In the world of shopper culture, we believe ugly fruit and veg is just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce) to a growing larger cultural currency of all things ugly. The question is how will retailers and marketers respond?

Photo Source: Duncan Dreenan/Flickr