While wasting food is one of the biggest problems currently facing the produce industry, things are ripe for change. Globally, it is estimated we throw away 2.9 trillion pounds of edible food a year—enough to feed the 800 million people worldwide that suffer from hunger, twice. It’s an issue that healthy food marketing must address.
Fortunately, brands are taking action. What has been coined as the “ugly produce” movement is growing slowly but surely, as chains like Whole Foods, Giant Eagle, and Intermarche of France begin to do away with wasteful cosmetic standards for their produce. The results show the benefits for marketers, including increased shopper traffic and a healthy boost to brand prestige.
Most notable is a groundbreaking partnership between Imperfect Produce and Whole Foods, who together aim to truly light a fire and turn this trend into the status quo. Having started in April 2016, the first test-runs in a handful of Northern California stores are still ongoing, and shows no signs of stopping. The movement has also caught the attention of Giant Eagle, who, with 420 stores, recently announced a new initiative for less-than-pretty produce. Fruit and veg that don’t make the cosmetic cut will be nobly marked as Produce with Personality, and shoppers will be blessed with a reduced price tag—a fantastic example of a positive healthy food marketing campaign that glorifies a previously rejected product without sacrificing brand prestige.
What matters, however, is whether shoppers bite—and Intermarche has already proven its potential for success. Launching an “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign, the French chain sold flawed products that came with a 30% discount in one store outside Paris, which reportedly led to a 24% boost in store traffic. When Intermarche sold soups and shakes made with ugly produce just next to it, the campaign was unstoppable. The experiment was so appealing to customers that the French chain extended the efforts to all of its 1800 stores for a week, and local competitors are now adopting the model for themselves. It’s a loud and clear testament to the overwhelming benefit perceived by consumers when prices are dropped, as frivolous cosmetic expectations can’t compete with the irresistibility of financial reward.
Brands like Whole Foods, Giant Eagle and Intermarche are finally changing the conversation to show there are benefits to both retailers and shoppers when imperfect produce is embraced. Saving money truly embodies irresistibility, and the positive response to tackling a global crisis has also proven to boost shopper traffic. As the New York Times reports, customers in Portugal—with an ugly produce waiting list of 1,000 people in 2014—find contributing to a positive mission just as attractive as some extra cash. It’s high time food marketers of all trades begin to reap the benefits of tackling waste to boost shop traffic and bump up a brand’s perceived integrity. The longer the conversation continues, the closer to mandatory it might become.
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