Uglies Takes Upcycling To The Snack Aisle

While National Recycling Month may not be on many shoppers’ radar, Uglies Kettle Chips knows a good opportunity when it comes along. The potato chip brand, which has rescued over 25 million pounds of unsightly spuds since its 2017 founding, is asking social media fans to “turn something ugly into something beautiful.” The winner of the sweepstakes gets a year’s supply of Uglies chips.

Uglies, a division of Dieffenbach's Potato Chips Inc., uses imperfect potatoes, which might otherwise be discarded, noting that 26% of all produce grown in the U.S. gets tossed for cosmetic reasons. It says the contest is the latest push to inspire others to reduce waste, support farmers, and fight hunger. The brand donates 10% of profits to VivaKids, a Pennsylvania food charity.

The idea is to reward people for all their upcycling efforts,  says Bob Zender, director of marketing. “We are excited to see all the creative ways people are upcycling in their own lives."

The company is pushing the message out on social media channels and its website, he tells CPG Insider via email. “As an emerging brand of meager means, we rely on a lot of socially inspired word of mouth and the support of the larger community of food brands and organizations fighting the upcycled food cause,” he says. “We also communicate our unique messaging at sampling events and on packaging. We have enlisted digital ads (independent and via retailer platforms) and solicited online reviews by influencers, as well. “

Dieffenbach’s, based in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, has been making kettle chips since 1964, and launched Uglies in 2017. But it isn’t the only company determined to solve this problem.

The Upcycled Food Association says sales of upcycled snacks are up by more than 500% since 2021.

And the topic keeps popping up on food trend lists as Americans grapple with the discouraging reality of food waste. An estimated 40% of food grown annually is either unsold or uneaten. ReFED, a food waste research organization, says about 80 million tons of food is wasted annually, valued at $310 billion.

Upcycled foods represent a small but fast-growing niche in the food chain, as consumers think differently about food waste and the supply chain. Currently, about 100 companies with 531 products are certified as upcycled, with snack foods, pet foods and beverages leading the way.

Misfits Market, for example, launched three years ago and bases its business model on unattractive produce. It estimates that 52% of the products it purchased would have gone to waste or been used for a different purpose, such as animal feed. It includes Imperfect Foods, groceries upcycled from bits and pieces, like broken pretzel ends, or rescued ingredients.

The Foraging Fox, another example, makes a range of tomato ketchup, while Renewal Mill sells baking mixes made from plant proteins and fibers that come from processing plant-based foods.

Zender says awareness is growing and cites recent data from the Upcycled Food Association, reporting annual awareness growth of 115% in the last year.

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