Florida Keeps Ugly Tomatoes to Itself

Call them fat. Call them odd looking, just don't call them tasteless.

Joe Procacci calls his tomatoes "UglyRipes."

"Nobody says that they don't want a beat-up tomato," Procacci says. "They want a tasty tomato."

UglyRipes are a popular new tomato selling at premium prices at supermarkets across the country. But not for long.

In Florida, strict marketing rules leave no room for ugly-looking tomatoes.

"This don't meet the grade standards because of these ridges," Procacci says. "That's a perfectly good tomato. But it doesn't meet the grade standards."

No Room for Ugliness

Just what gets sent out of state is governed by the Florida Tomato Committee, and they demand tomatoes that are round and smooth. Taste is not a factor.

Most of the tomatoes Americans eat in the winter come from Florida, which produces half of all the tomatoes grown in the country.

Florida tomatoes are easy to spot. They look like Christmas tree ornaments, and that's the way the marketing board wants it to stay. They worry that the ugly ripes will give Florida tomatoes a bad name.

"The first contact you make with any product is visual," says Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Committee. "There's a minimum visual quality standard that needs to be there."

The committee says there is no way to regulate taste.

Processing Out Flavor

Heather McPherson, food editor of The Orlando Sentinel, says perfect-looking tomatoes or apples or grapes all have one thing in common.

"We are processing the flavor out of our produce so that it has a sort of what we think is a magazine photo shoot appearance in the supermarket," McPherson says. "We don't want that. We want good flavor."

Upon tasting an UglyRipe, McPherson says, "There's a from-your-grandmother's-garden kind of thing going on there."

But until the Florida Tomato Committee changes its mind, Americans will have to settle for good looks -- except in Florida, where growers are free to sell whatever consumers will buy, no matter how ugly.

ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Dec. 19, 2004.

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