Sustainability / September 18, 2019

Visual Standards for Produce Lead to Enormous Waste

High visual standards for fresh produce have lead to a tragically high amount of waste, with ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables frequently discarded before ever reaching supermarket shelves. However, growers, retailers, and consumers alike are becoming increasingly aware of this problem, and the sale of aesthetically flawed fruits is on the rise. 

There are many factors that can cause produce to be discarded for being visually unappealing – blemishes, aging, slight malformations such as lopsidedness, mishandling, etc. However, none of these factors have any bearing on the healthiness of the produce in question, which is almost always safe to consume. 

“Produce…may be abandoned for purely aesthetic reasons based on slight visual imperfections that result in the produce not meeting market standards of visual appeal,” claims a study from the University of Chicago. “In this case, perfectly edible food is discarded simply because it does not look good.”

According to The Independent, ‘ugly’ produce accounted for almost 40 percent of all fruit and vegetable waste in 2013. This quantity is tragically high – almost half of all fruits and vegetables are thrown out for failing to meet visual standards, and the environmental consequences are staggering. Since much of this disposal occurs at the retail end of the supply chain, tremendous resources are spent on the growth and shipping of perfectly good produce that is thrown out for superficial reasons. 

However, new trends in marketing and consumer demand may lead to less waste. One study found that by ‘humanizing’ or ‘anthropomorphizing’ older produce, retailers can encourage consumers to evaluate older, less visually appealing produce more favorably. The study encourages marketers to display their products in human-esque situations, such as wearing sunglasses on the beach. 

Throughout the agricultural supply chain, there has been a concerted effort to cut down on waste. One company, Imperfect Produce, is dedicated to the subscription-based sale of fruits and vegetables deemed visually imperfect. Appealing to an ever-greater number of environmentally-conscious consumers, the company has seen strong growth in recent years.

In addition to businesses, there exists a wide variety of nonprofit organizations dedicated to the reduction of food waste globally. Many of these are based locally, and work in small areas collecting and distributing wasted food. Others are more globally minded, such as ReFED, which cites consumer education as a critical strategy in the fight against waste.

As consumers become more conscious of the environmental impact of wasted produce, demand for visually unappealing fruits and vegetables is sure to rise. Many retailers and wholesalers are already offering packages of aesthetically flawed fruits at discount rates, passing value on to consumers. 

At Farmfolio, all of our agricultural projects are committed to sustainability. From farm to table, we seek to reduce waste at every phase of the supply chain. Be sure to look out for imperfect produce from our La Dona Fruit brand, specifically our Panama Golden Pineapple. Pineapples often contain slight visual imperfections that do not affect the overall quality of the fruit, but can create great deals for savvy buyers.

As consumer demand continues to evolve in a more environmentally conscious direction, business must take the lead to ensure the reduction of food waste. Such flagrant, unnecessary waste must not be allowed to continue. 

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