When you go to the supermarket, how does your produce buying routine go? Do you look for the largest, shiniest fruits? Do you squeeze and poke at the vegetables until you find the perfect specimen available to put on your plate?
That’s not the case at Intermarche, one of France’s largest grocery store chains. At Intermarche stores, many customers take pleasure in finding the weirdest looking produce on the shelves.
Truthfully, the selection process has nothing to do with eccentricities and everything to do with helping to reduce food waste. The United Nations has stated that only 50% of the produce grown in Europe gets eaten, meaning that the other half gets wasted. Since a large portion of this waste is the result of throwing away completely edible produce that isn’t picture perfect, Intermarche thought it would do its part to cut down on waste by asking its produce suppliers to give them the unattractive fruits and vegetables that other stores would turn away.
In order to entice shoppers to give the less visually appealing fruit a try initially, Intermarche introduced these vegetables by squeezing them into juices or pureeing them into soups. Once the customers were able to taste these products and confirm that the flavor was in no way impacted by the shapes or bumps on the food, they were much more receptive to buying the irregular fruits and vegetables for home consumption.
It’s legitimately a good offer for shoppers, as well. Since the store is able to secure the disfigured fruits and vegetables from their suppliers for a discount, Intermarche passed on the savings to customers in the form of a 30% discount. If it’s just as tasty and nutritious anyway, why not pay less for a non-spherical orange?
The store ultimately benefited from this campaign, too. After introducing the cheaper, weirder produce, shopping at Intermarche supermarkets increased by 24%. Customers respected the attempt to lower food waste, while simultaneously enjoying the lower prices, resulting in an increased and loyal customer base. Evidently, it can be profitable to do the right thing!
Could this idea work in America? Image is king in the United States so it might be harder to convince people that it’s okay to go home with some lesser looking produce. Still, considering that each U.S. supermarket throws out an average of 700-800 pounds of food every day – much of that waste specifically being produce – it would certainly cut down on what gets discarded.
Perhaps America would get behind the funny personalities Intermarche assigned to their misshapen fruits. Assembling a team of “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables,” they created posters for Grotesque Apple, Ridiculous Potato, Hideous Orange, Failed Lemon, Disfigured Eggplant, Ugly Carrot and Unfortunate Clementine. Although I generally disapprove of commercialization, I can actually envision these foods as a Saturday morning cartoon characters that have misadventures while promoting proper nutrition.
Due to ongoing population growth, the rate at which the world produces food will need to increase by 70% in the next 35 years. Fortunately, the majority of that difference could be covered if we stopped wasting the food that we already do. If we all started embracing the “uglier” produce like Intermarche stores and their customers, we’d be at least a few steps closer to solving the hunger crisis.