Sad Produce is a Blemish on the Industry

Not too long ago, I was shopping in a local grocery chain and I saw a pretty disgusting site. Among the ‘Fuji’ apples from a major packer/shipper in Washington, there were many signs of storage disorders, blemishes, wrinkles, and even rotting apples. These were probably some of the worst apples I’ve ever seen in a grocer’s produce department, and this was in mid-December.

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But it wasn’t just the sad ‘Fujis.’ The other big varieties had problems too.

The ‘Honeycrisp’ had punctures in the skin and the ‘Gala’ also had some very noticeable blemishes.

It’s becoming an all-too-familiar sight, and not just at my local supermarket.

I’ve seen poor produce displays, including decaying berries and other storage disorders, paraded out at other grocers, too. Sometimes it makes me wonder if those restocking the produce are even paying attention to what they’re doing. (And now, I’ve officially moved into cranky old lady territory).

Generally, I don’t say much, especially if it’s imported fruit. I don’t necessarily expect blueberries from Chile to look like they were fresh-picked. But truthfully it doesn’t matter where the fruit comes from, because I doubt most consumers are making the connection.

I posted photos and video on Instagram and got a wealth of feedback. Many growers lamented the sad shape of the produce, and said they’ve seen the same.

“Such a poor representation of the hard work we all do during the year,” one grower commented.

And he’s right. If the fresh produce industry gets only a few chances to make an impression, it’s important it’s a good one. Consumers who see bruised or blemished apples might be less likely to buy apples from that store again. And, if that’s where they buy most of their produce, and they get out of the habit of buying fruit and opt for the snack food aisle, it’s bad for all growers.

The dialogue on Instagram has inspired me. I’m going to start speaking up when I see fruit at displays that are in sad shape. I plan to fill out online surveys that come at the bottom of my receipt;

I’ll even move the produce off the display. I’ll do my best to help the industry put its best foot forward.

We in the industry know we have to work constantly to keep consumers focused on fresh produce over all the other options they have, and when we do get them engaged, we’ve got to deliver on flavor and, above all, quality.

It’s easy to finger-point. But the truth is, bad produce hurts everyone. It’s all too clear that apple consumption in this country has leveled off, and the sad ‘Fujis’ don’t help the matter. And, often it’s the produce handlers who end up damaging or ruining a good product.

We can’t stand to lose customers to the snack food aisle.