A produce database app that could be so much more

The Specialty Produce app that I installed following a Twitter ad (every once in a while I click on an ad just to support Twitter) bills itself as “The world’s greatest resource on produce!” and if you like databases and cooking, this one’s for you. It’s an extensive database of fruits and vegetables and isn’t limited to a region or season, making it very large. Each entry, though, has a lot of useful information including a description, availability, nutritional value and a detailed image.

End of the day at the farmer's market.

End of the day at the farmer’s market.

What I like:

  • Breadth and depth. Each product entry looks great and the information provided is detailed and very well presented. I have yet to find a fruit or vegetable that is not in their database and that’s impressive. That said, the entries are organized in a rather flat hierarchy that require quite a bit of scrolling to find the item you’re looking for. Also, when listed, each varietal in group is not accompanied by an image, making it difficult for amateur produce hunters to understand the difference between the, say, different kinds of apricots, without looking at each entry.
  • Spotting. I love the idea of spotting produce, where users report where they have seen a specific item. It addresses the “where the heck am I going to find red sunchokes for this recipe I’m trying out” problem. The app currently allows you to limit the area where produce has been sighted, making it very practical.

What I’d like to see:

  • Seasonality. Filter the database by produce that is available now in my part of the world. There’s no need to display melon varieties in the winter.
  • Local alerts. Why have a mobile app? So that you can receive information on the go. Am I nearing a fruit stand with local cherries? A garlic stand near Gilroy? Let me know!
  • Farmer alerts. Let farmers, farmer’s markets, and specialty grocers advertise location of produce for sale. Something like “We’ll be at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market with Early Girl tomatoes on Saturday.”
  • Produce alerts. Say I’d really like to try a certain recipe but I really need Purple Haze Carrots for it. I’d like to be actively notified if it becomes available in my area.
  • Alternatives: Suggest compatible, locally available alternatives when what I am looking for is not available.
  • Encourage spotting: the app currently makes reporting a “spot” tedious. Users need to first identify the item and then report a “spot” by entering the location (currently by free text, though it seems like there is the ability to detect locations using Foursquare, it did not work for me.) Is image recognition good enough to be able to identify produce? That would be extremely fast and easy: take a picture of the item and the app will do the rest, along with location data and an app for identifying businesses (Foursquare is a good fit, perhaps also map applications?)

Specialty Produce is currently a useful and beautiful database, but it can be much more. It can be an indispensable part of my grocery shopping, prevent me from going to four or five different stores whenever I prepare a special meal. More alerts and a way for users to create filters for them will also encourage businesses to share more “spots” making the app more useful.



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