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Marketing and the “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign

Posted by Robyn Bipes-Timm 
Marketing and the “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign
August 20, 2020 04:34PM
Wondering who of the growers here has experimented with (or even better had success with) the “Eat Ugly Apples” approach to marketing. We are close-ish to the Twin Cities and I have noticed a definitive uptick during COVID of urbanite friends and acquaintances buying into the ‘misfit market’ and ‘imperect food’ ship-to-home options.

We usually juice or cider our ugly fruits. But I’d love some of these otherwise beautiful dessert apples like Duchess, Fireside, Haralred and HoneyGold get fresh-eaten and enjoyed in spite of the scab, rusts and blotch.

Robyn Bipes-Timm
Wisconsin above the Mighty Mississippi
Zone 4b
Re: Marketing and the “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign
August 20, 2020 05:19PM
Hi Robyn,

As of late, my work with Eat Ugly Apples had resurrected for marketing purposes for the reasons you mention. Seems like people are far more into it now than they were 5 years ago, which is great.

With that said, consumers as a whole are TERRIFIED of worms in apples and they don't have the education to tell the difference between a scab lesion and a coddling moth entrance. The thought of encountering a worm is enough to keep them from buying blemished fresh apples.

If you can swing it from the heirloom side and market its genetic peculiarities rather than physical blemishes, that would be the way to to go. I have no problem selling golden russet, for example.

Re: Marketing and the “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign
August 20, 2020 09:05PM
My grading standard is good enough to eat, period. Barn customers take it from there, choosing apples from bushels of orchard run fruit (picked with that standard in mind) to fill their peck or whatever size bag. Now and then I'll skim the "passed by apples" off the top and these become utility fruit for pies and sauce, now sold at a lesser price in half-bushel amounts only.

I agree with Eliza that nothing that wriggles be in the fruit. The one exception would be the occasional AMF larval sting which may miss my paranoid eye but if such fruit is eaten relatively soon, customers likely won't notice either. Teaching people the storyline behind particular aesthetic blemishes helps humans live on this earth. Nick Cowles at Shelburne Orchards long ago proposed a curculio egg scar be viewed as a badge of authenticity. (The fruit would have dropped back in June if the egg had successfully hatched.) Similarly, some fruit with minimal scab means the tree as a whole has a phytochemical edge with respect to medicinal oomph. Show people sooty blotch and flyspeck can mostly be rubbed off. Make a big deal about flavor as that's the ace up our sleeve.

This sort of customer education is harder to achieve if selling fruit through a store. That's a place I could see a deliberate Ugly Apples approach as a counter to the "visually-pleasing orbs produced by toxic chemistry." Still, that healthy-grown fruit had better be good enough to eat! I'm doubtful that selling cider-grade apples is what's intended here.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/20/2020 09:15PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Marketing and the “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign
August 20, 2020 11:09PM

After discovering Eliza's excellent work on this a few years ago, we've done a lot of marketing (and education!) with #eatuglyapples. We've definitely made headway with our community, but not everyone is willing to listen.

As Eliza says, it works best when you are talking about heirlooms with genetic peculiarities. But we have also tried to educate people on "blemishes"--what different cosmetic ones look like, and what they mean in terms of the integrity of the apple. We have a page with pictures on our website and also have posters hung in our shop. The response has been generally very positive, though as I said, not everyone cares or is even open to the idea.

Like Michael, we do grade out anything that might have "wriggles" in it. That's where we draw the line. And yes, none of our fruit is sold wholesale; not sure if it could work in that kind of selling situation.

Door Creek Orchard
Zone 5a in Wisconsin
Re: Marketing and the “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign
August 24, 2020 01:31AM
When we started selling our apples out of our packhouse and at local markets and festivals last year, we were frankly terrified of what the response to our apples would be. Our #1 Grade A apples look like most local growers' #2 apples at best. And said local growers are merely 40 minutes away in Cana, VA, a big conventional apple growing area at a higher altitude, and most folks around here make a day of heading up there to buy their bushels direct from orchards where the average price is $15/bushel.

In spite of this, amazingly, we have never ever had a customer or potential customer say or otherwise intimate to us that our apples are too expensive or not up to snuff, appearance-wise. More than once at festivals we have had folks stop and take pictures of our apples to show their grandchildren "what real apples look like." Although our rural neighbors are accustomed to much lower prices for fresh apples, there have not been any truly local orchards around here for years (and fewer and fewer yard trees), and these people are generally older and grew up with one or more long-since-gone yard apple trees, which were never sprayed. A lot of what we growers would identify as damage, our older customers actually consider varietal characteristics ("Oh, such and such apple always has those spots all over it."). We do sell non-wormy seconds with any excessive dry damage as discounted seconds, and these older rural customers tend to favor those because they don't see anything wrong with having to cut a divet out of a piece of fruit, and they gravitate towards a deal.

Likewise, many of the middle-aged residents out here are the sort to plant apple trees, one, and not be particularly interested in doing anything to help them produce decent fruit, two. So they are used to disgusting-looking fruit or not much in the way of fruit at all, and thus, predisposed to wonderment that we can produce apples period, let alone without spraying conventional chemicals, so that helps locally.

I think our current market is pretty unique in their tolerance for apples that are good to eat regardless of appearance. However, as we spread our marketing wings, we are increasingly having citified folk make the trek out to the orchard, and although they tend to be drawn to us because of our unconventional growing practices, they are definitely . . . different. We sell unpasteurized cider slushies, and of course, have that damn warning sign posted about the potential for harmful bacteria. Up until the past month, we have never had a single person comment on (or even appear to notice) the sign at the packhouse, or when we've carted the machine to very local festivals. But I've recently had two parties come out and initially balk at the slushies after noticing and reading the warning notice. One woman was going to pull a slushie when her husband put his arm in front of her to stop her cold and said, "Read the sign!" She did so, then turned to me completely befuddled, and asked, "What does that mean?" Good question. She bought the slushie in the end, but I consider that experience a harbinger of what to expect in the future.

We have never had to make use of, or reference, any "Eat Ugly Fruit" campaign, but knowing how urbanites like their pat organized movements, I think it will be of great use to get urban people to embrace non-Walmart apples. Which reminds me -- we do take a laminated poster with us to festivals, the heading of which reads "Our apples do not look like perfect Walmart apples. Here's why . . ." I'm constantly amazed at how many people take the time to read the fairly lengthy explanation all the way through, chuckling as they do so. We are probably too contrarian to ever condescend to actively take part in the "Eat Ugly Fruit" marketing collectively, but thank you to all of you who do for helping to spread the good word!

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/24/2020 01:34AM by Brittany Kordick.
Re: Marketing and the “Eat Ugly Apples” campaign
January 12, 2021 05:08PM
Reading this made me think of the consequences of perfect fruit. Imagine a picture of a perfect apple, one that would proudly grace the front of any gourmet food magazine. In the background are jugs of Spinosad and Carbaryl with a pile of dead bees in the foreground. The caption reads 'The Price of Perfection'. One would hope that if people would think about the consequences they would find 'ugly' to actually be 'beautiful'.

Washington Okanogan Valley
Zone 6b
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