An Imperfectly Excellent Solution

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An Imperfectly Excellent Solution

By Meg Major, EnsembleIQ - 07/08/2015

In the fertile, post-harvest phase of an intriguing NPR report about W. Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley's pilot rollout of "Real Good" ugly produce – which launches this week in 10 of its 118 stores – Church Brothers, a Salinas, Calif.-based grower/processor/shipper of more than 500 fresh vegetable SKUs, in conjunction with Compass Group USA, is activating its own #ImperfectVeg platform to help reduce both food waste and water usage while supporting the ag community.

Prior to proceeding, it's only fitting to pause and tip our toque to the Charlotte, N.C.-based, ugly-produce pioneering Compass Group – a leading national foodservice company, and its sister Bon Appétit Management subsidiary – which officially debuted its Imperfectly Delicious Produce (#IDP) program this March that plants perfectly edible – albeit unattractive veggies and fruits in the grateful hands of unpretentious, value-seeking shoppers.

Indeed, a natural fact in the food industry is the plethora of wholesome, fresh fruits and vegetables which get discarded every day because of their unorthodox size, shape or color – some or all of which aren't exactly "plum" with established grading specs and standards.

Since first piloting the IDP program in May 2014 with two large customers in California, Pa., and Washington State, the sister Compass companies are rolling it out in Oregon and Washington, D.C., with sights set on national expansion around the next bend. To date, more than 10,000 pounds of 31 varieties of fruits and veggies – from misshapen organic carrots and leeks to loose kale leaves – were recovered and suitably enjoyed during just the first few months of the pilot.

Ugly the New Pretty

“The trend is going viral in the foodservice sector due to the Compass Group helping tell the #IDP story and build awareness with restaurant operators, chefs and consumers,” says Vince Ballesteros, Church Brothers' VP of business development. “We are seeing more support and requests for these edible and nutritious fresh produce items, and we’re working with our distribution partners to make the introduction and implementation of these products is successful."

Kori Tuggle, VP of marketing at Church Brothers, applauds the emerging trend that she says "is a gift to the produce industry and its growers. Ideally, if we are able to educate chefs on what they are receiving, the #ImperfectVeg could be more acceptable with the foodservice sector as consumers choose off a menu description; compared to at retail where shoppers buy with their eyes,” Tuggle notes.

Church Brothers will display its #ImperfectVeg product line at the upcoming PMA Foodservice Expo, which includes direct field-packed Romaine leaves and cauliflower, value-added Broccoli fines, a by-product of florets and second crop baby kale, baby chard and clip spinach.

“We are starting with a small number of items to trial first with the direction of Compass Group," explains Ballesteros. "Once we receive feedback, we will evaluate opportunit[ies] to improve and expand the product list.”

While the "ugly produce movement" is still in its infancy, it's all to be expected that there will be some additional bumps and bruises along the way, as each regional supply chain has its own quirks, and no large-scale system exists as yet for rescuing underdog crops.

Nevertheless, Church Brothers' Tuggle calls it "a win-win" for all parties along the supply chain, "who benefit from the halo effect of the product’s story." What's more, "Consumers want to do their part in helping reduce food waste and eat vegetables that use less water to grow.”

No doubt about it, imperfect produce perfectly closes a lingering gap in the food chain, and grocery shoppers looking for good deals in the fresh produce department will be all the better for it – so long as they're willing to withstand a few bumps and bruises.