Do Merchants Display the Best Looking Fruit on Top?

L. S. Wynn

Box of Strawberries It's probably the oldest trick in the grocer's book — to display the most appetizing fruit in the most prominent location. To test the theory and to ensure that it wasn't some sort of buyer's bias, we purchased a large box of strawberries.

The photograph shown here is the actual box we purchased. We obscured the producer's logo because we have no intention of singling out a particular merchant.

We sorted the strawberries into two piles; one pile was comprised of strawberries that were visible from the outside of the package, and the other pile was of berries that were hidden at the bottom of the box.

Next we took a single photograph of both piles, so that the lighting and camera settings would be identical. Other than cropping, we did not make any other edits to the photographs below. The results are quite surprising:

Strawberries visible
from outside of package

Strawberries not visible
from outside of package

average color of picture above average color of picture above

The color swatches shown above were generated using our average color tool. This makes the difference even more obvious.

With this carton of strawberries, at least, there is no question about the difference between those that were visible prior to purchase, and those that were hidden. It's kind of amazing to imagine a strawberry packing plant, where workers choose poorly colored strawberries for those in the bottom of the carton, and beautifully ripe strawberries for the top, but these pictures are so striking, it's difficult to imagine a less insidious scenario.

Clearly, the strawberries on the outside didn't ripen in transit, since they'd all be shipped in cool, sunless containers. Though customer manipulation isn't the only possible motivation here, it seems to be the most likely.

It's true, in the end, these photos are from just one carton of strawberries, and we recognize that is a poor sample size to make any kind of strong accusation. On the other hand, what other explanation can there be, other than these producers putting their best, fruit forward?

MYTH: Plausible