Imperfect Produce: Why Do Consumers Care About Appearance?

To what extent does the rejection of imperfect produce contribute to food waste? Read on for statistics and relevant tips for your produce business.

Imperfect Produce: Why Do Consumers Care About Appearance?

In the United States, food waste is a significant problem. A big contributing factor to the amount of food that ends up never being consumed (and therefore being sent to landfills) is the rejection of imperfect produce. A ReFED report on reducing food waste reports that a large amount of produce never makes it to the shelf for cosmetic reasons.

The good news: of the more than 10 million tons of produce per year that’s not sold from packinghouses and farms due to cosmetic imperfections, most of it is composted and recycled to enhance soil health.

So where does the bent, oversized, misshapen, and lumpy produce that does make it through go to waste? Keep reading to learn more about where the issue of rejecting “ugly” vegetables and fruits comes from, and how Silo can help your produce business reduce waste.

Where does the problem of waste due to imperfect produce occur?

If the early stages of the food production system aren’t the biggest contributors to food waste, where, then, does the problem lie? As it turns out, the majority of waste comes from consumers and retailers rejecting produce that appears “ugly” or “imperfect”.

The success of the food system depends on whether or not the food is bought and actually consumed, but according to an article by Forbes, misshapen fruits and vegetables turned away by grocery retailers due to their appearance make up 40% of total food waste.

On a consumer level, customers have been conditioned to view only brightly-colored, unmarked, and perfectly-shaped produce as tasty and edible. 

An unusual appearance in a fruit or vegetable’s exterior when it comes to shape, size, or color can deter people from purchasing them as they’re deemed inedible, when in reality, outer appearance has no impact on nutritional value or flavor.

America’s food system has developed to demand perfection in exterior presentation, leaving millions of pounds of what’s perceived as “ugly” fruits and vegetables to go to waste.

Food Dive talks about how 81% of consumers say that appearance plays a factor in their produce purchasing decisions, with physically flawed produce being seen as less nutritious and delicious.

What can be done to save imperfect produce and reduce waste?

There are several ways to fully optimize the country’s produce reserve and reduce waste.

Improve marketing

One way is to develop a market for imperfect fruits and vegetables. Consider how physically flawed produce can be marketed and sold to customers, thinking about things such as how they’re labeled and how discounts can incentivize customers to purchase them.

Using terms like “misshapen” vegetables and fruits, for example, can reference its physical form rather than suggesting that there’s something inherently wrong with them, warding away imagery of damaged, rotten, or moldy produce that would otherwise be dangerous or less than ideal for consumption.

You can convince retailers, too, that it could be an opportunity for them to make money through increased sales. As more and more retailers adopt and normalize the sale of “ugly” produce, fewer amounts of perfectly edible food end up as waste.

Packers can integrate the sale of imperfect fruits and vegetables for use as ingredients, emphasizing that restaurants and foodservice serve to benefit through reduced expenses, saving millions of dollars in food purchasing costs by incorporating imperfect produce into their menus.

Develop and reassess waste management processes

Along with finding creative ways to market products, produce businesses will need to increase visibility over their inventory to get started with monitoring waste. For this, they can develop processes (or reevaluate the effectiveness of existing ones), or make use of ERP solutions that make waste management much easier.

Raise awareness

Another way to tackle this issue is to raise awareness about how the expectation for produce to appear physically perfect can contribute to food waste. 

Tackling public perception means letting customers know that the sale of imperfect produce means lower prices, which means less food inequality, and by buying it, they can do something good to help the world. Highlight the benefits of sustainability and preventing food waste, appealing to the average consumer’s desire for responsible consumption.

Foundations can help by supporting educational efforts for consumers and marketing efforts for producers, effectively increasing demand and vitalizing supply.

Encourage action

Federal and state governments wield the most potential for change. Passing regulations, creating programs, and including conditions in purchasing contracts to support the purchase of physically flawed produce can influence selling and purchasing decisions.

Reduce waste with Silo

Reducing waste starts with assessing its source, and then taking action. The rejection of imperfect produce is a major contributing factor, and only through changes on all levels of the supply chain can a difference be made. Produce businesses can begin by monitoring waste to make actionable decisions.

Silo is a produce ERP platform that helps you with overseeing all elements of your produce business.

Gain greater visibility and eliminate the guesswork when it comes to inventory management, lot tracking, and traceability. Silo gives you insight into a lot’s history and current status. Get immediate insight into availability, profitability, quality, and waste.

Our platform helps you take actionable steps towards waste reduction and business growth with digestible produce data, analytics, and reports. Prevent waste and calculate profit margins with Silo to take your business into the future, driving more sales for greater profit and growing your business with a hands-on approach.

Real-time reporting on your business lets you be proactive in minimizing waste and generating profit. With efficient cost management, you can reduce costs while minimizing unused goods through features like inventory waste reports.

Benefit from a centralized platform that lets you track your expenses and produce, all in one place. Leverage lot performance insights and aging inventory reports to prioritize your product while reconciling all inbound and outbound orders—with access to real-time updates! Silo lets you track the flow of goods across state lines and beyond.

Need help overseeing inventory and waste? Book a demo with Silo today!

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