Science has done it again… another mystery solved!

Anyone who has eaten a homegrown tomato (particularly a specialty variety) straight off the vine has asked “why can’t grocery store tomatoes taste like this?” For most of us, it ends there with a disappointed groan. But for one team of scientists, it was apparently a compelling enough question to spur a quest for truth.

The answer: it’s our own fault. We consumers demand pretty foods, so agricultural companies bred a “perfect” tomato. Perfect on the outside, anyway. But it turns out that the same gene that contributes to that flawless uniformly red skin also leads to a reduction in sugar production inside the tomato, resulting in that tasteless fruit that disappoints us so.

This came to mind a couple weeks ago while I was visiting a grocery store in Hungary. As I walked through the produce section, these little fellas caught my eye.


They stood out for all the wrong reasons. They weren’t washed or trimmed or neatly stacked, the way I’m used to seeing carrots in a grocery store. But what does that really mean? It means they came straight from the farm to the store, without a detour to a facility for a haircut, a bath, and a bag. It means they were fresh. Isn’t that the whole point of produce anyway?

It was a wake-up call to me, much like the tomato study was, that the things we’ve been trained to react to as consumers (like appearance) can lead us away from the attributes we truly value (like taste and freshness).

And for businesses, there’s another lesson. Having a good product, or even a superior one, isn’t enough. Ask yourself this… how well would that basket of dirty carrots sell in a typical US supermarket next to a display of cleaned and bagged carrots?

And now… how well would it sell if you hung a sign on the basket saying “Straight from the farm”?

Don’t expect your customers to overcome their own biases or challenge their own assumptions. There’s nothing wrong with bucking the status quo, with trying something new, with being genuine and authentic. But if you’re selling dirty carrots or ugly tomatoes, don’t forget to tell people why.

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