What Makes a Fruit or Vegetable Good?

ridiculous potato

Produce has a short shelf life, and much of it is wasted because there is no good way to store it (or because it gets to your fridge, but you don’t use it in time). “Shelf appeal” is a major consideration for sellers of produce, pushed partly by consumers, too, and as a result countless tons of fruits and vegetables never make it to supermarkets just because they’re, well, ugly. This is bad for human nutrition, a waste of environmental and farming resources, and tough for the slim-margin grocery business, too. Enter Intermarché:

Intermarché – a big supermarket chain in France – decided it was time to save an endangered species from the rubbish bin; ugly duckling fruit and veg. In the UK a whopping 40% of greens don’t reach our shelves simply for being a bit unfortunate looking and globally we waste $750 billion worth of food each year. Ouch.

Patrice de Villiers took beautiful, glowing pictures of the fruit and veg for the campaign, giving them their moment to shine centre stage. Ad agency Marcel also made a funny jaunty promo video; it’s like The X-Factor of the produce world and we’re all cheering for the ones with the sob story. French shoppers were offered their lumpy cucumbers and mutant carrots 30% cheaper than their perfect siblings, and chose price over prettiness – making the experiment a roaring success. They even had a second chance as soups and juices too. A true tale of the triumph of the underdog. —Great ad campaign encourages customers to buy oddly shaped fruit

Tesco and Waitrose, in the UK, also offer ugly produce at a discount, and there’s a German campaign, as well. European food sellers are finding a good business case for rescuing these ugly ducklings, and consumers are starting to see the appeal. After all, once they go into a soup, salad, or smoothie, who cares how pretty they were?

Image: Intermarché campaign, photo from a series by Patricie de Villiers

UPDATE: A friend in the US writes to say that farmer’s markets sellers sometimes offer ugly or “stew-ready” produce at a discount. It’s worth asking!

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