8 in 10 Americans Say Appearance is at Least Somewhat Important When Shopping for Fresh Produce

No matter how many times we’ve been told not to judge a book by its cover, waiting to pass judgement on something until after we get past its outside has never been an easy task for people to accomplish. Whether it’s what we’re reading or who we’re meeting, people have a tendency to set expectations based on surface assessment. But does the same hold true for what we eat? According to a recent Harris Poll, about eight in ten Americans (81 percent) confirm that appearance (i.e., not blemished or misshapen in any way) is at least somewhat important to them when shopping for fresh produce (i.e., fruits and vegetables), with 43 percent saying it is very or extremely important.

When listed alongside other fresh produce descriptors, appearance proved to be more important than provenance (i.e., locally grown or sourced), the retailer’s food waste practices, and organic. However, the price and seasonality are more likely to be important to a purchaser than appearance.

“Whether ‘ugly’ or not, produce is on the rise, up 5 percent in U.S. dollar sales in the latest 52 weeks ending July 30, 2016,” said Jen Campuzano, Director Fresh Perishables at Nielsen. “Choosing healthier and more natural products has become a priority for households across the country. For some, this means transparency in labeling, opting for foods with basic ingredient lists or embracing fruits and vegetables, blemishes and all.”

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,025 U.S. adults aged 18+ and surveyed online between August 10 and 12, 2016.

Ugly Produce

Despite the weight Americans place on appearance, more than three in five adults (62 percent) say they would be at least somewhat comfortable eating “ugly produce,” that is, fruit or vegetables that may be misshapen but otherwise taste the same. Moreover, three-quarters of adults (76 percent) would expect to pay less for “ugly produce,” while a fifth (20 percent) could see paying the same as usual.

Despite professed comfort with eating ugly produce, fewer than three in ten Americans (28 percent) recall buying “ugly produce” in the past year, compared to 51 percent who are sure they did not and 21 percent who are not sure either way. And of those who bought “ugly produce,” six in ten (61 percent) did so for the price discount.

Food Waste

While the primary reason Americans bought “ugly produce” was price, the runner-up answer from more than a fifth (22 percent) of purchasers was that they wanted to reduce food waste. Americans estimate that, typically, 10 percent of the groceries they buy are wasted, that is, spoil or go bad before they can be eaten. Over eight in ten Americans (84 percent) are at least somewhat concerned about the issue of food waste, primarily because they would like to be less wasteful (62 percent).

So how do Americans believe we can reduce household food waste? Nearly half (46 percent) of adults believe better storage for fresh produce is the key to waste reduction, followed closely by more than 2 in 5 (42%) who advocate buying less food, more frequently. Another 38 percent believe the solution is better meal planning, while 35 percent say it would help if smaller package sizes were available in the grocery store.

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