Although growing in highly controlled greenhouses means only a minor amount of its production fails to meet quality standards, U.S. urban agriculture company Gotham Greens has extended its offering to include an 'ugly produce' line.
The new product - lettuce sold in a bag marked 'Ugly Greens (are beautiful)' - was launched this summer in partnership with Whole Foods Market and later sold to other retailers in New York State.
The Brooklyn-based company started business in 2011 and grows vegetables in greenhouses in urban areas such as on roof tops of buildings.
Speaking to www.freshfruitportal.com at the New York Trade Show and Conference that took place last week, co-founder Viraj Puri said the company wanted to build consumer awareness over the prominent issue of food waste.
"Even in our climate controlled greenhouses, our highly pampered greens can get a little blemished or bruised during the harvest and packaging process," he said.
"These products would typically be consumed by our staff, or donated, or composted. But given the increasing interest around the country and around the world on this issue of food waste we decided why not try to package up these ugly greens of ours and try to sell them at a discount while also trying to build awareness around the issue of food waste."
In the U.S. it is estimated that half of fresh produce is thrown away, according to Puri.
"This is either at the farm level due to cosmetic reasons, along the supply chain, or at the retail level - perhaps the displays are too big - and there’s also often a lot of confusion with enjoy-by dates and use-by dates, so it’s a systemic issue," he said.
"There’s a whole movement now that’s taking place now where we’re trying to build up consumer awareness around the problem, so Gotham Greens is just trying to play a small roll in that. Ugly greens do not have a big role in our business, but it’s just a small initiative to try to join this movement and shed some awareness on the movement."
While lettuce and other leafy greens are not commonly found in retailers' 'ugly produce' section, Puri said there was often a lot of waste in the category.
He also said there were various possible applications for the imperfect produce, including garnishes, juicing, and use in pesto and sandwiches.
He added the 'ugly produce' line represented a 'drop in the bucket' of the company's production, especially given that the produce is delivered to customers within 24 hours of harvest.
The response from consumers and retailers alike has been very positive, Puri added.
"I think everyone recognizes that this is an issue that’s on trend, so there has been a lot of interest in it. If it does well here then potentially we will launch it in the other regions in which we’re active," he said.