Once upon a time, we fresh food connoisseurs were taught that the best way to purchase a melon was to first give it a good squeeze, making sure it wasn't too hard and not too soft. Apples were best bought bruise-less, and peppers and tomatoes ought to be shining bright and blemish-free.
Well, times have changed. No longer is pristine produce the desire of the conscious consumer, but rather imperfect vegetables and fruit have become all the rage. The ugly food movement first started over in Europe, and as trends so often do, the fandom for flawed fruit and veg is now spreading westward, with major Canadian food retailer Loblaw announcing it will be expanding its line of Naturally Imperfect products nationwide.
First launched as a pilot project last March, selling unattractive apples and potatoes in select stores across Ontario and Quebec, Loblaw's Naturally Imperfect line was created to make fresh food more accessible. "Through working with our many partners we came up with the 'no name Naturally Imperfect' produce line, produce that may be smaller, misshapen, or have a slight blemish—all imperfections that do not affect the quality and taste of the product, but allow us to offer the product at up to 30 percent less than conventional produce items," says Dan Branson, the senior director of produce at Loblaw Companies Limited.
Differing from the movement over in Europe, which has grown more out of concern for cutting food waste, Loblaw's main concern is with cutting consumers' grocery bills. And this will surely be a welcomed move for Canadian shoppers as food costs surge, due primarily to the low dollar. According to Statistics Canada's consumer price index, overall food prices in Canada rose 4 percent between January 2015 and 2016, with fresh vegetables rising by 18.2 percent and fresh fruit by 12.9 percent.
Branson says the response to the line "has been great," and that customers seem to get it that any difference in appearance "does not affect the taste, item quality, or their ability to cook with it." Citing their selection of Naturally Imperfect apples as an example, Branson states, "The only difference when compared to a conventional apple would be the size, shape, and slight discoloration of the skin. If you were to peel the apple or bite into it, it would be difficult to differentiate between the no name Naturally Imperfect apple and a conventional apple."
However, as the program now expands to Loblaw's Real Canadian Superstore, Your Independent Grocer, and some No Frills and Maxi stores across the nation, customers can expect to find different selections in different locations. In addition to the ugly apples that are available countrywide, including the Maritimes and select stores in the Yukon, Ontarians will also get homely potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, pears, and onions. Quebecers will receive frumpish mushrooms, peppers, and onions. But customers in Western Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) will only find the addition of imperfect peppers gracing their local shelves. "Our produce teams continue to work with our farmer network to increase the availability of no name Naturally Imperfect products across the country," says Branson. "Canadians should be on the lookout for new items as we get into the Canadian growing season."
So here in Canada, it seems some are bidding au revoir to the old rule that produce need be perfectly pretty, and are instead welcoming in a new decree: that cheap and ugly can still be delicious.
"At the end of the day, customers want quality, great-tasting products," says Branson, "and if they can get it for a savings, even better."