6 minute read

The Ugly Company

The Beauty Inside

This Central Valley company is reducing food waste one ugly fruit at a time.

Story by Natalie Caudle | Photos by Dakota Jacobi

We all love the story of an unlikely hero. We root for the misfit, the underdog, the outsider. Stories of ugly ducklings give us hope and force us to dig deeper. We long to be reminded that sometimes what’s on the inside really does count. Unfortunately, we too often judge a book—or a fruit, in this case—by its cover.

Consumers want picture-perfect produce. But, as Mother Nature would have it, fruit doesn’t grow in uniformity—some are cosmetically unappealing. Though edible, lopsided kiwis and too-small peaches don’t make the cut. Dimpled apricots and misshapen nectarines aren’t retail-friendly. Despite the enormous agricultural production in the Central Valley, not all fruit is sent to market. Food insecurity impacts families daily, demanding a new way to approach food production.

Keenly aware of the waste produced in the Valley, Ben Moore, a fourth-generation farmer from Kingsburg, experienced a watershed moment while globetrotting five years ago. Moore remembers, “I’ve backpacked and traveled across quite a bit of the world, and eventually I came to realize the amount of produce we throw out in the United States, for aesthetic reasons, is 100% not normal. The light bulb went off and I felt called to action during the summer of 2017.”

“We believe every fruit should be given a chance to be enjoyed, even if it looks a little funny.”

Ben Moore, Ugly Company founder and 4th generation farmer

Soon thereafter, hurricanes hit both Texas and Puerto Rico, leaving residents hungry, while at the same moment, Moore was discarding more than 300 tons of edible fruit from his farm. “The aftermath that followed caused me to reflect. There was a massive food shortage in Puerto Rico. Yet here I was, hauling perfectly edible fruit to landfills while people were in need. After that week, I decided to…help our farms find a home for their ugly fruit,” and The Ugly Company was born.

The Ugly Company upcycles unwanted peaches, kiwis, white nectarines, and apricots. The not-so-pretty fruits are dried and diced without the use of sugars, sulfur or additives. “We believe every fruit should be given a chance to be enjoyed, even if it looks a little funny,” comments Moore. What was once considered an undesirable piece of produce is now a perfectly upcycled and sustainable snack.

Ben Moore, Ugly Company founder

Ben Moore, Ugly Company founder

Typically, farmers have to pay for their rejected pieces of fruit, also known as culls, to be hauled away and dumped. When The Ugly Company steps in, the farmer gets paid for their misfit fruit. Not only does this approach benefit both parties, but by giving new purpose to the unwanted produce, the carbon footprint is reduced. Local food banks get the first pick of the culls while the leftovers head to The Ugly Company for an upcycling makeover.

Farm waste repurposing is an endeavor that requires cooperation between both the farm and the upcycler. “The most important part of this process is building relationships with farmers and the people working at the packing sheds,” remarks Moore. “Upcycling truly requires everyone to see the value of our zero-waste vision. Without the relationships we’ve built and maintained, upcycling would not be possible.” In 2021, The Ugly Company upcycled more than half a million pounds of fruit, and for 2022, their ambitious goal is to upcycle 1.5 million pounds. That’s a lot of ugly.

Like so many Valley natives, most locals have never considered what happens to the produce that doesn’t make it to the grocery store shelf. Liz Salazar, The Ugly Company Chief Operations Officer, grew up in the Central Valley. Despite her husband hauling culls for over a decade, Salazar was oblivious to the magnitude of fruit being wasted. “Every year, the state of California throws away more peaches than the state of Georgia produces—all simply because they look ‘ugly’. It wasn’t until I started working for The Ugly Company that I realized it was perfectly good fruit. So many people still have no idea the amount that is thrown away.”

Each snack is made up of only one ingredient: dehydrated fruit. Fans have their favorite go-to flavors. Moore and Salazar agree that while the kiwi snack may be the ugliest, it’s the best to naturally gratify that sour candy hankering. “With the ingredients being just fruit, I can satisfy my snack time cravings or hand it to my kids with a guilt-free conscience,” Salazar notes.

By living purposefully, Moore chose not to ignore food insecurity and massive farm waste. His small step of upcycling has led to a significant reduction in agricultural waste and has shaped his lifestyle. “When you commit yourself to doing work like this, you start to challenge all of your decisions in all parts of your life. If you’re trying to do something good with your work, your personal life needs to reflect that as well. One of the reasons why I started the company was to regain purpose in my work,” remembers Moore. “Now I want to empower everyday people to be a part of the solution and prevent this waste. It takes everybody involved to solve a problem of this magnitude.”

Perhaps there’s a misfit in all of us. Maybe a little ugly reminds us of ourselves in some small way; it reminds us that true beauty is really found on the inside. The mission is simple: prevent food waste and add value back to farms, one unwanted fruit at a time. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know that even forgotten fruit can have a happily ever after.

Sustainable snacks can be purchased online at theugly.company; subscription boxes available.

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