Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables Campaign against food waste by Intermarché

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We throw 300 million tons of food each year. Much of this wasted food never reach the markets not our plates for the simple reason that their appearance is unconventional, unattractive and clearly do not meet the desirable standards for sale. The release of this news had encouraged the European Union to make 2014 the year against food waste.  It did not fall unto deaf ears. Intermarché, the third biggest grocery store in France, came up in early 2014 with an uncommon campaign that sought out to minimize food waste. The “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”, or “Fruits et Légumes Moches” promotes the ‘ugly’ green produce that is too often thrown away by growers because it is considered unfit for consumption.

Intermarché proposed to help prevent food waste by proving its customers that “ugly” fruits and vegetable were simply as healthy-to-eat and delicious as their “beautiful” counterparts. This slick initiative was based on a serious message aimed at reducing food waste, which was designed in a manner that was likely to encourage customers to change their consumption habits at the moment of the campaign.

The campaign by Intermarché was produced by advertising agency Marcel and the photographer Patrice de Villiers. 7 posters were produced, each of them starring the unattractive produce to go alongside it. The posters displayed images of the “grotesque apple”, the “ridiculous potato”, the “hideous orange”, the “failed lemon”, the “disfigured eggplant”, the “ugly carrot”, and the “unfortunate clementine”. The success of this campaign can be attributed to the funny way in which images of greens have be personified. A particular attention has been paid to give characters to each fruit or vegetable on posters. In an interview, the photographer reported that ‘The most vital element was ensuring the “strange but lovable” theme shone through I spent time observing our uglies trying to find the precise angle which showed both their “ugliness” and their loveliness, finding their unique character.’

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The initiative was first conducted in only one Intermarché store in Provins, to test its efficiency. entire aisles in store were cleared to make room for the “inglorious fruits and vegetables”, and marketed the less-than-desirable product with special signage and labels. Intermarché put its efforts into the campaign’s visibility in the store itself, with additional animation proposed to customers at the entrance. orange juice and carrot soup were distributed in-store, and several packaged dishes ready-to-cook made from the produce were on sale. Last, but not least, Intermarché gave the produce a 30 per cent markdown.

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The campaign was an immediate success. Within 2 days, 1,2 tons of produce was sold at the store in Provins, and store traffic has increased by 24%. France is a fertile ground to launch such “changing consumers’ habits initiatives” because the government has since many years oriented his efforts towards raising awareness about the necessity to “eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day”. Intermarché clearly played on that field, since this slogan has been taken back in their “inglorious” headlines. Several other French food groceries have since joined the movements, with the “Quoi ma gueule?” (“So what about my look?”) label, that also sells “unattractive” products at discount prices. Leclerc French supermarket started to commercialise “soup kits”, with the right quantities of “unattractive vegetables” already packed for soups. However, the commercial-awareness campaign has reached far beyond France’s public, via social media. The video, displayed on Youtube and created by advertising company Marcel, records millions of views internationally with full success.

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It is very likely that the offer of discount prices for unattractive vegetables have provided an ultimate incentive to customers. People are probably as much concerned with saving the planet as with saving their own money. If this campaign is thus successful in preventing – at a small scale –  food waste at distribution step, it does not target waste at consumption. It even risks having the reverse effect of encouraging customers to acquire greater quantities because produce is marketed “on sale”.

Although interesting in itself, the initiative remains market-oriented and does not aim at being applied to all Intermarché stores, neither is it going to be extended in time. Intermarché admitted that the organisation obstacles with producers were too complicated. The company is more of a free-rider in the positive wave of awareness on the issue of food waste, since it managed to reach more customers and more revenue from produce saved from waste, but does not question the root causes of the system. It’s rather taking advantage of it, implicitly blaming other food grocery chains and food producers for contributing to food waste. It’s an opportunity for Intermarché to redefine its image after the scandal of deep-sea fishing denounced by GreenPeace in January 2014, which made bad publicity for the corporation’s concern with sustainable development issues.

Actually, initiatives to reduce food waste are ones that really enable to save money, for produced, distributors, and consumers alike. On one hand, the sale of products at apparent discount prices is probably the ultimate incentive that encouraged consumers to turn to the inglorious fruits and vegetables. On the other, the campaign’s strength has been not to make customers feel guilty, but rather proud for their contribution to prevent food waste. This commercial effort has the advantage of revealing that consumers tend to be receptive to the issue of food waste, but lack opportunities to consume differently. Providing alternative options of consumption is a big part of changing customers’ habits.