Amelia Freidline, Copy Editor
Amelia Freidline, Copy Editor

Around the new year it seems like every media outlet — and the entire world of the Internet — is abuzz with lists of predictions for the months ahead.

According to the folks in the know, in 2014, pastels will be big for spring, Google+ will emerge as a major player in social media, and finger print scans or eyeball recognition on tech devices will increasingly replace the need for complicated passwords.

Oh, and Pantone’s color of the year is “radiant orchid.” Maybe that’s why I had dreams recently about purple cauliflower.

Some of these lists have serious insights and some are just silly.

Bloomberg Businessweek, reporting on ad firm JWT’s “100 things to watch in 2014,” distilled the food-related news down into this nugget: “Food marketing in 2014 will be ugly.”

Of course I had to click that link.

“Ugly produce” holds down spot 93 of JWT’s list.

Bloomberg writer Venessa Wong explains that “almost six in 10 people surveyed by JWT say they ‘like goods that are a little flawed or imperfect’ ... and seven in 10 find beauty in flaws.”

JWT cites European efforts to curb food waste by marketing misshapen produce instead of throwing it away or refusing to sell it at retail.

Austria-based retailer Billa markets these under its private label “Wunderlinge” (a portmanteau of “anomaly” and “miracle”), and German chain Edekka is testing selling “flawed” fruits and vegetables at a discout, JWT reports.

The European products reminded me of how Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms has promoted frost-kissed artichokes as more flavorful than regular artichokes, despite their less beautiful appearance.

Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian Farms has received good reception of its 1-pound packages of Oddbells, misshapen red and green bell peppers.

I think it’s great that companies are developing clever ways to market their less-than-perfect-looking fruits and vegetables rather than just hiding them in bulk bags — I pulled a carrot out of the crisper the other day that had a shape only a mother carrot could love.

But Bloomberg’s Wong had a good point.

“The survey never asks how flawed (shoppers are) willing to go,” she writes. “In an age of epic food waste, it’s reassuring that consumers may find something charming about a bruised apple, but would they prefer it to a flawless apple that cost the same? Preferences often are emotional, and JWT’s point, perhaps, is: Only if the marketing is persuasive enough.”

In an age where farmers markets are often lauded as the best source for produce, bulbous tomatoes and dirt-dusted potatoes are seen as charming and desirable.

Why doesn’t it work the same way for fruits and vegetables sold at retail (minus the dirt, of course)?

I’ll admit that I’ve done my fair share of picking over product to avoid fruit with scabs, nicks, soft spots or awkward shapes.

Maybe one of my New Year’s resolutions should be “buy more ugly produce.”

Just the facts, ma’am

I’ve written before about widespread misinformation regarding genetically modified crops and organic produce. While Facebook-spread hysteria over GMOs or the “Dirty Dozen” can be annoying, I realize that a lot of consumers don’t know where to turn for accurate information on those topics.

Maybe it was wishful thinking to assume members of the consumer press would.

The first Sprouts Farmers Market in the Kansas City area opened recently in suburban Overland Park, Kan.

A local NBC TV station sent a reporter out to get the inside scoop on the store and find out whether buying organic food was worth the extra expense (the Phoenix-based retailer specializes in organic and local products).

NBC reporter Sarah Hollenbeck interviewed Suzanne Friesen, a registered dietitian, on the topic.

“Organic basically means the meat, dairy or produce is raise without pesticides, antibiotics or herbicides,” Hollenbeck’s story reads.

Oh really?

“Some foods will have a label showing they are ‘certified organic,’ but Friesen says that really doesn’t matter,” the story continues.

“What you want to look for is local food grown without antibiotics or hormones. ‘You can buy foods that are not certified organic that are just as good,’ (Friesen) said. ‘That organic label is costly for farmers, so maybe you buy locally raised meat that is not certified organic but is raised without pesticides and antibiotics.’”

While my Vance Publishing Corporation colleagues in the protein industry could give more insight on what goes (or doesn’t go) into organic meat, I know that organic produce can, actually, be raised with pesticides and herbicides, albeit ones containing nonsynthetic compounds.

Secondly, organic certification helps ensure that the produce consumers buy is, in fact, organic. A California woman recently took Pico Rivera, Calif.-based HerbThyme Farms to court for allegedly labeling an organic and conventional mix of herbs as certified organic.

Certification, though involved and expensive, gives companies a standard to abide by and gives consumers recourse if they think a product has been mislabeled.

Finally, the fact that something is “local” doesn’t mean it’s organic or raised with fewer pesticides, either.

Too many people too often equate local with organic (maybe it’s the charming coating of dirt on that punnet of spuds) when it ain’t necessarily so.

I’m not anti-organic or anti-local by any means, but I am anti-ignorance.

What’s your company doing to make accurate information foremost in the minds of consumers — and the consumer press?

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.