Land-grant consumer preference research might give ugly produce a facelift

According to a 2018 North Carolina study, about 41% of unharvested food is edible but unmarketable because, well, it’s ugly. A team of Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences researchers are aiming to give “ugly produce” a better chance of making its way into our shopping carts, which would help producers sell more of their produce and increase profits. It would also help the U.S.Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency meet their goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50% by 2030.Ohio State’sBrian Roe, along with Danyi Qi and Jerrod Penn of Louisiana State University and Ran Li, an Ohio State doctoral student, surveyed 1,300 U.S. residents who shopped and cooked for their households. They discovered that explaining the value of misshapen vegetables—that they are as healthful as their picture-perfect counterparts and that buying them helps reduce food waste—improvedsales of the less-than-beautiful produce. They also learned that shoppers would buy ugly produce when mixed in with more standard counterparts and was discounted. But this sales strategy worked best when the ugly produce consisted of no more than 40% of the total purchase. These consumer preference findings have the potential to change the industry’s view of cosmetically imperfect produce. The 40% ugly produce tipping point in consumer willingness to pay could make harvesting ugly produce profitable—an important calculation for farmers who need a positive return on their investment into planting, picking and shipping their crops. These findings, too, can be used as a sign to regulators who set the tolerance level for produce cosmetic standards that mixing in ugly produce with standard produce can be profitable. Lastly, tomove into the ugly produce market space, this research indicates that producers should consider a rebrand of their uglyproduce as a more natural option that could help reduce food waste,rather than offering a discount.