Though Uglies kettle-cooked potato chips are made with unwanted and rejected spuds, consumers can’t seem to get enough of them, according to an official with the unique brand’s manufacturer.
Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips of Womelsdorf, Pa., launched the intentionally flawed and light-hearted brand about a month and a half ago — providing a home for local growers’ misshapen, high-sugar or oversized chipping spuds.
Uglies are the latest product to capitalize on the small but steadily growing ugly produce movement — marketing products at a discount from produce that fails typical industry specifications for aesthetic reasons, while appealing to consumers motivated to help reduce food waste.
Dwight Zimmerman, vice president of business development with Dieffenbach’s, believes Uglies could set a chipping industry trend, based on the early response.
“They’re flying off the shelf,” Zimmerman said.
Uglies, which are discounted at least 15 percent, have also been a hit with area farmers.
“We’re able to give them more money than the dehy plant,” Zimmerman said.
The company, which produces about 250,000 pounds of finished chips per week, still does the bulk of its business in its Dieffenbach’s and One Potato, Two Potato brands, made with flawless tubers. But a survey of Uglies customers found about half prefer the taste of a darker, imperfect chip, Zimmerman said.
He said the company is approaching large retailers, such as Walmart, about Uglies and plans to publicize the brand in early March at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif.
“They’re good potatoes, and it’s ridiculous that they’re being thrown away,” Zimmerman said.
The company has put off-grade chipping spuds to good use since the 1960s, when current owner Nevin Dieffenbach’s grandfather sold Factory Seconds to locals in plain bags. But the company never pushed the product. Recently, when ugly produce started to gain attention, Zimmerman suggested, “Why don’t we create a brand and tell the story right on the bag?”
California native and ugly produce champion Jordan Figueiredo said the movement is growing as consumer awareness about food waste increases. Figueiredo cited a 2016 collaborative study, called the ReFED report, concluding the U.S. spends $218 billion growing, processing and transporting food that is never eaten, and 20 billion pounds of food is simply left on the farm to go to waste.
In 2016, he said seven U.S. supermarket chains started selling ugly produce — some in response to petition drives he organized — compared with a single chain offering ugly produce during the prior year. He said a growing list of specialty companies, such as Misfit Juicery, and Watermelon Water, partially owned by music star Beyonce, are also marketing their use of ugly produce.
“There’s amazing potential for growth,” Figueiredo said. “We don’t eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables as it is. I think lowering the cost a little bit is a great way to get this product to market and change people’s perceptions, too.”