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Ugly foods find home in produce aisle

Published on

Cathy Dobson

A new line of misshapen or slightly blemished fruits and veggies is taking the produce departments of some local grocers by storm.

“There’s nothing wrong with this produce,” says Albert Marinaro, produce manager at Sarnia’s Real Canadian Superstore on London Road.

“It’s 100% fresh and tastes great. It’s just that when they’re graded they aren’t big enough or shaped perfectly enough to be graded No.1.”

The Superstore and other Loblaw-branded stores in Sarnia including No Frills and Value Mart have been able to order from the no name Naturally Imperfect line for about a year.

Customers have responded, said Marinaro.

“I’ll get an order of Naturally Imperfect carrots in and it’s gone five hours later.”

While a three-pound bag of regular carrots sells for $2.49, five pounds of oversized and cracked carrots cost $1.49.

“We can’t stock the shelves fast enough,” said Marinaro, pointing to a display of imperfect mushrooms – all a little darker than regular mushrooms.

“We’ve refilled this display three times today already,” he said.

While the overall cost of fresh produce has soared this year, these less beautiful fruits and vegetables are selling for about 30% less, on average.

Until recent weeks, however, access was limited locally to potatoes and apples. But now the company is seeking out more growers and expanding the Naturally Imperfect line to peppers, carrots, onions, mushrooms and pears. Even ugly avocados could be available at bargain prices later this year.

“We’re seeing tremendous traction with this,” said Dan Branson, national senior director of produce for Loblaw.

“Five to seven years ago, we were very focused on the standard of fresh fruit and vegetables in our stores. Then we began to realize there was a lot that doesn’t look that good but tastes great,” he said.

“Some of it was being processed for juices, soups, stews or frozen vegetables. There was also the likelihood it was thrown back into the farmers’ fields or never picked because of its small size.

“We began to open our eyes to the opportunity of buying imperfect produce from the growers and selling more to our customers.”

Branson admits the company was concerned about consumer reaction and rolled the new line out slowly.

“We’re so conditioned that everything has to look pretty,” he said. “But our customers gravitated to it right away. They got it.”

The cheaper line is boosting sales and providing access to healthy eating for struggling families, he added.

“Like everyone else, we are finding ways to be innovative.”

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