Pretty Ugly


Pretty Ugly
Florida’s Once Forbidden
Fruit Packs a Tasty Punch
★ By Caroline McCoy
omato lovers who have
discovered them might not like to
admit it, but some of the juiciest,
most flavorful tomatoes around are
sitting right there in the regular
supermarket produce section. They
are right next to the uniformly red,
perfectly round, perfectly bland,
waxy tomatoes most grocers stack
into wobbly pyramids that topple
over at the slightest touch. They are
called UglyRipes and, despite their
marketing nightmare of a name,
they are delicious.
The UglyRipe tomato has been
a labor of love for produce guru
Joseph Procacci, of Procacci Brothers Sales Corp., which distributes
the brand under its Florida-based
120 Garden&Gun summer 2007
Santa Sweets label. For years
Procacci heard the same complaint:
in the winter, there wasn't a good
tomato to be found. Florida, which
produces the majority of the nation’s
tomato supply during the off-season, was getting a bad name among
tomato consumers. So, searching
for an alternative, Procacci began
developing a superior-tasting garden-quality tomato. In 1999, after
nearly two decades, the UglyRipe
burst onto the Florida tomato scene.
It wasn’t pretty: In fact, it was thinskinned, lumpy, and varied in color.
But for Procacci looks aren’t everything. He named it the UglyRipe —
so we daft consumers would know
it was “supposed to be ugly” — and
trademarked the name.
The UglyRipe is derived from the
Marmande, an heirloom tomato traditionally grown in southern France.
As such, its looks and taste are
more like those of a garden-grown
heirloom than the thicker-skinned
tomatoes that are commercially
cultivated to withstand shipping
and have a longer shelf life. The
UglyRipe enjoyed three seasons in
the national marketplace before the
Florida Tomato Committee (FTC), a
federally regulated group of growers
that supervises the state’s tomato
industry, cracked down. Claiming that the UglyRipe’s misshapen
appearance didn’t meet its quality
standards, the FTC banned distribution of the UglyRipe outside of
Florida. The UglyRipe was just too
ugly. The long debate that ensued
cost Procacci Brothers millions in
unmarketable crops of perfectly
wonderful tomatoes.
Finally, Procacci's persistence
coupled with consumer backlash to
the ban paid off in January, when
the UglyRipe was pardoned for its
appearance. The tomato was finally
allowed to reenter the national market, and taste buds across the country got their long-awaited fix. It may
not be the prettiest tomato in the
supermarket, but the UglyRipe is all
about taste and, boy, is it gorgeous!
Photograph by Andy Anderson