Is ugly the new black?
In farmed produce, there’s the good, the bad — then there’s the ugly, and a lot of it. The ugly generally gets rejected, given away, plowed under, or dumped into a landfill for no other reason than being aesthetically challenged. But the big success of a campaign recently launched by a French supermarket chain could be a model solution for supermarkets to profit from this ugly situation.
The supermarket, Intermarché, France’s third largest retail chain, came up with a way to turn the ugly lemons into lemonade. The chain created a separate brand with its own logo, labels and advertising called "Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables." The product line is sold fresh in bins and also includes branded soups and juices sold in containers. The effort was a huge hit as customers agreed that these products may be ugly, but they’re 30 percent cheaper and the taste is just as good.
"During the first two days, the store sold an average of 1.2 tonnes [about 2600 lbs.] of ugly fruit and vegetables. The total number of customers in the store increased by 24 percent," says Intermarché in the promo video. The first month of sales bought in over 13 million customers.
Intermarché launched this campaign as part of the European Union’s declaration of 2014 as the year to fight against food waste.
Here in the U.S., 30-40 percent of edible food is thrown away annually at a cost recently estimated at about $165 billion. The EPA estimates that food waste has increased 50 percent since the 1970s.
And the estimated 33 million tons of food we don’t eat contributes far more than its weight in waste. According to the NRDC, getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and soaks up 80 percent of all fresh water used in the United States. And what ends up in landfills contributes a considerable amount of methane to the atmosphere.
As a call to action, Jonathan Bloom, author of the book, American Wasteland, says in his blog, "So all of you supermarkets out there — especially here in the US! — adapt or even steal Intermarché’s idea. There’s too much at stake, environmentally and hunger-wise, not to try something to trim our food waste. Who knows, it may even bring some buzz to that retailer. After all, ugly is the new black. Ugly is now sexy."
- A Food Waste Reduction Movement Gathers Steam – Techonomy/Forbes.com
- Bien fait, Intermarché – Wasted Food
- Intermarche’s initiative to sell ugly produce a great success – Fresh Plaza
- How the U.S. manages to waste $165 billion in food each year – The Washington Post
- Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill – Natural Resources Defense Council
- Coming Soon: A Summer Of Ugly Fruits And Vegetables – NPR
- Tempting Europe With Ugly Fruit – The New York Times (tiered sub.)
- This Supermarket Came Up With A Brilliant Way To Keep Food From Going To Waste – Elite Daily
Could an idea like Intermarché’s Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables brand and campaign work for supermarket chains here in the U.S.? Would the economics and scale of U.S. agricultural and supermarket logistics help or hinder its potential success? Is this campaign an effective way of addressing produce waste?