While the marketing brand name for Jamaican tangelos is certainly accurate, “ugly” citrus fruit isn’t the only type of produce that suffers from shopper neglect at grocery stores. Cosmetic inferiority is actually one of the main contributing factors of food waste at supermarket chains. Produce that doesn’t look pretty and perfect simply doesn’t sell – and then it spoils and needs to be thrown out. Sometimes, grocery stores will pre-emptively toss the imperfect produce out of anticipation, which is a huge waste of delicious, nutritious, and completely edible food. The fault isn’t necessarily on the stores, though, because consumer preferences dictate market trends. However, by directing marketing efforts toward the sale of aesthetically inferior or aged food, sales of these items can be increased, thereby reducing wastefulness.
A grocery store in Denmark has helped contribute to the nation’s 25% food waste reduction in five years. (Denmark’s per-capita rate of food loss is currently less than half of that in the United States.) The supermarket, Dansk, has been reducing prices on food items that are close to their expiration dates, and conscientious consumers are proudly purchasing them. The stores even have special signage and shelves for the marked-down food for advertising purposes and easy access. Produce poses a special problem because of the aesthetics issue, but there are some small things that can be done. Dansk, for example, will take the outer leaves off of a head of wilted lettuce and sell the crisper, inner section at a discounted price. Similarly, with bread having been one of the store’s most wasted items, reduction in order volumes and discounting of older bread has helped cut waste to 60 percent less than previously.
Other countries in the European Union have made strides in this area as well. Intermarche, one of the largest supermarket chains in France launched a campaign in 2014 to inspire consumers toward ugly produce. With audacious posters, ads and TV commercials, Intermarche promoted their new grocery bins dedicated to ugly produce, discounted 30 percent. The store also sold prepared food made from the “failed lemons” and “ridiculous potatoes” (among others) to demonstrate the taste equality of the items despite their aesthetic inferiority. The campaign was extremely successful, and even drew new customers to the stores.
Stores in the US are making efforts as well. Trader Joes and Panera Bread often partner with local soup kitchens and food pantries to donate food that is nearing expiration. Still fresh and edible, the donations help prevent good food from ending up in landfills while feeding hungry people.
No matter the location, the worldwide agriculture community can benefit from sharing ideas and previous successes in reducing the proportion of food deposited in landfills. Whether advertising with witty posters, selling food at a discounted price, or making donations, grocery stores have a huge potential to influence positive change in consumer trends with regards to food waste.
AOTW. (2015). Intermarche: Ugly Carrot. [Online]. Retrieved from http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/intermarche_ugly_carrot
Godoy, Maria. (Dec 2014). In Europe, Ugly Sells In The Produce Aisle. National Public Radio: The Salt. [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/12/09/369613561/in-europe-ugly-sells-in-the-produce-aisle
Overgaard, Sidsel. (Sept 2015). Denmark Might Be Winning The Global Race To Prevent Food Waste. National Public Radio: The Salt. [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/01/436292784/denmark-might-be-winning-the-global-race-to-prevent-food-waste
UGLI. (2015). About Us. [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.ugli.com/about_us.html