Growing a Market for Ugly Produce

Dec 10, 2019

A surprising amount of marketing goes into selling fruits and vegetables. Grocery stores put a lot of thought into the appearance and layout of the produce section. It’s usually near the front of the store to push customers to reach for a cart over a basket, drive impulse buys and showcase the store’s variety and freshness. 

However, not all fruits and vegetables are destined for the produce aisles. The European Union has strict regulations that stop deformed and misshapen fruit and vegetables from being sold. In 1988, the EU banned the curved cucumber. In 1999, carrots with forking marks or secondary roots were banned.

Opportunity in an Ugly Subscription Box

Some brands see opportunity in challenging these beauty standards. Several subscription companies are delivering boxes of imperfect fruits and vegetables with a meaningful mission centered on reducing food waste. These subscriptions can sell imperfect foods at a lower cost than store-bought vegetables.

The real beauty behind these ugly products is the marketing strategy and focus on sustainability and empathy. Hungry Harvest’s mission statement uses the phrase “rescue the produce” and portrays consumers as heroes for buying rejected produce and saving it from a wasteful end.

Brands including Odd Produce, Misfits Market, Imperfect Produce and the Wonky Veg Box have food waste information and statistics on their websites and describe their work in language that normalizes and cultivates a sympathetic image for these peculiar produce items.

The brands’ bet on customer sympathy for maligned fruits and veggies is paying off. Companies are expanding their delivery areas and have garnered major media hits for their offerings. Grocery stores, particularly in Europe, are even rethinking their produce section marketing.

Crucially, brands are measuring and sharing their success in terms of sustainability as well. Since 2014, Hungry Harvest details rescuing 15 million pounds of food waste, providing one million pounds of food to hunger-solving groups and eliminating 720 million gallons of water waste.

Long story short: Showcasing a little bit of personality in your products is a powerful way to connect to new opportunities and trends and put a new polish on your offering.

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