The Beauty Of Food – And Its Surprising Downside Of Being Gorgeous

Carina Legl

Matching color. Perfect shape. Right size. Fruits and vegetables failing to meet those attributes are doomed. Whether an importer, packer, grower, distributor, wholesaler, or retailer, anyone who markets fresh fruits and vegetables within the EU must meet quality and labeling standards.

This begs the question: What’s happening to the ones not meeting the cosmetic quality requirements?

The decrease of food intended for human consumption is a growing concern worldwide due to its negative economic, environmental, social, and business implications. Food loss is taking place before the apple reaches the final consumer (whereas food waste is taking place once the apple is discarded by consumers when it is deemed unsuitable for consumption).

A study in 2011 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations showed significant fruit and vegetable loss occurring early in the food supply chain – dominating in all three industrialized regions. Europe alone comes close to 50%. This is mostly due to post-harvest fruit and vegetable grading caused by quality standards.

Changing the perception of beauty

However, doesn’t the imperfectly appearing apple still taste amazing and have nutritional value? Quite obviously, the time has come that our perception of beauty has to change – from farm to fork.

Part of the initial production lost or wasted at different stages of the food supply chain for fruits and vegetables in different regions. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011

Making ugly food attractive reduces cosmetic food waste

In a world where one-third of all food produced globally is either lost or discarded, according to estimates from the UN’s FAO, France is a great role model. The country is taking the leading position to combat food loss through its focus on policy and governmental action and the quality of its response to food loss, including the ugly and misshapen fruits and vegetables.

Spotted: The hottest French food models

The grotesque apple. The failed lemon. The ridiculous potato. The ugly carrot. In an effort to save and sell what would have been otherwise banned before it even got into the store, Intermarché launched Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables. A massive global campaign soon followed to celebrate the beauty of the imperfect in film, billboards, TV, radio, public relations, and Intermarché’s catalogs and social media platforms.

Scarred, disfigured, or odd-shaped fruits and vegetables that do not meet EU’s shape and color standards can be sold customers for 30% less than the normal-looking ones.  A win-win-win campaign for consumers, growers, and Intermarché: Consumers get the same quality of apples for less money, helping many afford the five daily portions of fruits and vegetables recommended by nutritionists. Growers get money for the grotesque apple that is usually thrown away. And Intermarché increases its business by selling a brand-new line of apples.

And its brand image? 21 million people reached by the campaign after just one month. 300% increase of mentions of Intermarché on social networks during the first week. 1.2 tons average sale per store during the first two days. +24% overall store traffic. And five of Intermarché’s main competitors launched a similar offer. Well done Intermarché!

Pickiness is out, imperfect is in

The imperfect has been a global retail trend for a few years. However, is our attraction to the ugly changing? As Walmart and Whole Foods discontinue offering ugly produce, is the imperfect apple reaching the end of its shelf life in supermarkets? The ugly produce faces challenges from consumers’ preferences and market cannibalism as the cheaper apple may usurp sales of the regular apple.

Taking a look in how America is wasting its food, 20 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables are discarded on farms or left in the fields and plowed under. Feeding America works with people who understand food’s lifecycle best – farmers, distributors, and retailers – to divert and gather food before it goes lost.

The company Imperfect Produce also believes that the imperfect apple should be judged by how delicious it tastes, not by how flawless its skin is. The company is working to change the conversation along the food system, seeing the beauty and the value of the imperfect apple – down to the last bite.

For once, the interests of the grower, retailer, consumer, and planet are aligned – a delicious, beautiful prospect thanks, in part, to hideously ugly food.

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This article originally appeared on Forbes SAP BrandVoice


Carina Legl

About Carina Legl

Carina Legl is a solution manager at the Retail Industry Business Unit at SAP and a PhD research student at Edinburgh Napier University. Carina guides retail and fashion ecosystems in their shared mission for a sustainable, circular economy as she combines theoretical understanding with best practice to drive strategic customer relations and C-level engagement.