Whole Foods banking on 'ugly produce'

- The new Whole Foods Market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has rows and rows of beautiful, picture perfect fruits and veggies. And then, there's the ugly produce.

"Ugly produce is just really seconds, produce that doesn't exactly fit the spec of the beautiful, perfect piece of produce you're used to buying at a grocery store or even a farmer's market," explained Elly Truesdell, Whole Foods' regional local forager.

There are slightly bruised peppers, eggplants with indentations, and some gnarly looking, but still fresh, heirloom tomatoes.

There are even "ugly lettuce" from local grower Gotham Greens.

"These are products we are growing in our greenhouse, sometimes they get a little bit blemished from packaging or from harvesting," said Nicole Baum, Gotham Greens' manager of marketing and partnership.

"If there is something that's maybe a little bit ugly on the outside it will still make its way in because it's still fresh and hyper local."

According to the National Resource Defense Council, about 40 percent of food in the United States is thrown away. But public awareness and social media campaigns like "Ugly Fruit and Veg" are helping shift consumer perceptions.

"It feels like customers are more and more willing to purchase this stuff and not be as particular about what they're buying," said Truesdell. 

Especially because it comes at a lower price. At Whole Foods Williamsburg the "ugly greens" sell for a buck less than their more attractive Gotham Greens counterparts, and the goods in the ugly produce bin are a steal at just 99 cents a pound.

The trend towards imperfect food is taking off, with smaller regional grocery chains participating and now even Walmart piloting an ugly produce program in 300 of its Florida stores.

"Food waste has become such a popular topic just this year alone," Truesdell said. "It's been incredible to see how many customers are concerned about it, we as buyers are concerned about it, it's really an issue people are tackling."

Right now the ugly produce section is relatively small at Whole Foods Williamsburg, but if it's a success, it could pop up in other stores in the area.

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