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What makes fruit ugly?

How is a piece of fruit determined to be “ugly” or not? The USDA has very technical guidance on how fruit should be graded and inspected. I included the links to the USDA standards for nectarines at the bottom of this post. If you don’t want to bore yourself to death with technical information, I’ll explain how it works in human terms.

The factors that determine a fruit’s grade essentially fall into three categories – fruit’s maturity, cosmetic appearance and longevity in storage. Interestingly enough, the way fruit tastes does not matter when determining its grade so long as its mature enough to ripen.

Maturity is simple – will the fruit ripen enough to be consumed.

Cosmetic appearance consists of shape and color – the fruit needs to look pretty to be graded highly. The appearance of fruit does not affect the way it tastes, but it does affect its value.

The size of fruit, whether large or small, does not necessarily affect its grade, but it does affect the fruit’s value at the point of sale.

Issues related to a piece of fruit’s longevity will reduce its grade. These issues range from cuts during the harvesting or packing process, soft and overripe fruit, bruises, and oddities such as “split pit” where the pit itself grows apart while the fruit ripens.

So, what does all that mean to the farmer, buyer and consumer?

Fruit is graded based upon the USDA’s standards. This scale ensures that buyers – supermarkets, brokers etc.. – know the quality of fruit they can expect to receive when buying fruit from farms. One piece of bruised or cut fruit mixed in with grade 1 fruit can ruin the entire box of fruit because the bruised fruit will begin to mold earlier than the rest. One bad apple nectarine will ruin the basket.

Consumers pay for size, appearance and the expectation that the fruit they buy should not go bad immediately after they purchase it – unless it sat in the grocery store for too long.

For the farmer, fruit is considered “ugly” if is not economically worth packing in a box to be stored, shipped and sold. Farms are businesses, and like most all businesses, you need to turn a profit to stay in business.

There are times when grade 1 and 2 fruit is valuable and commands a respectable price. Other times, there is no demand for grade 2 fruit so it gets tossed out. Sometimes even the price of grade 1 fruit, of certain sizes, is too depressed to be worth packing and selling. The price of fruit, like any market, depends on a multitude of factors which I won’t delve into here.

So… to recap, what exactly is ugly fruit then, and what fruit makes up the contents of Hello! I’m Ugly bags? Ugly fruit is all the fruit that gets tossed out because it isn’t worth selling at any given time. The fruit that we cut, dry and package is either misshapen, bruised, too small or too big, and sometimes it is perfect grade 1 fruit that just wasn’t worth selling fresh.

In a perfect world, the demand for value-added products made from ugly fruit would meet the constantly shifting supply of ugly fruit getting tossed out. This what we strive to accomplish at The Ugly Company. That perfect market balance does not yet exist, but we’ll get there with your help!

In the next post I’ll explain how you, the consumer, can contribute to preventing perfectly edible fruit from becoming waste.

USDA Links

Grades of Nectarines Overview

Shipping Point and Market Inspection In


United States Standards for Grades of Nectarines

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