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.

Water is food? Food is energy?

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Screenshot from http://www.angelamorelli.com/water/  This post is not about an awareness campaign but on some infographics that aim at making alimentary diets’s environmental footprint more visible. An infographic is a visual explanation of complex information and data intended to make them more easily understandable, following a particular analytical approach, and often on the basis of cognitive elements.

The concept of “ecological footprint” was first coined by the Canadian researcher William Rees in 1992. It can be simply defined as the human impact on the environment. In this way, following his environmental consciousness, a normal individual in an industrialist society may adopt various behaviours so as to reduce his ecological footprint. Apart of transportation and energy issues, a daily choice for everybody is the one of food. Indeed, a particular diet may have consequences for your body, but also for the environment, following how the food was produced.

An Italian graphic artist, Angela Morelli, hence suggests that “you eat 3496 litres of water everyday” (as far as you is a meat-eater). She interestingly presents the implications of a daily meat diet in terms of water consumption. Indeed, if water for domestic consumption is visible, there would however be two invisible additional parts in our daily water consumption. First, the water used for industrial products, such as paper, cotton and clothes. Second, and by far the most important, the water to product the food we consume, which would amount to 3496 litres. “92% of the water we use is invisible and is hidden in our food!” Following this concept, referred to as “virtual water” by the British geographer Anthony Allan, it would take 15,400 litres to produce 1 kg of beefsteak – including water for the production of grains and roughages, the water for the animal to drink along its three years of industrial life, and the water for servicing the farmhouse and for slaughtering. To make this more visually striking, Angela Morelli has decided to represent this 15,400 litres of water hidden in a 1kg steak by a wall of as much (plastic) bottles – covering in the end 8 by 40 metres.

So to make the world more water secure, Angella Morelli suggests – if your are not already vegetarian (or vegan) by political conviction – to start with “one meat-free-day a week!”. Indeed, the average daily water consumption of a meat-eating person would amounts to 5,000 litres, twice the average of a vegetarian. Then, a meat eater should choose “meat raised on grass”, like sympathetic sheep, not “corn-fed beef” raised in the intensive agri-industry. Ultimately, you should not waste food because wasting food is also wasting water.

Of course, apart from a water footprint, our food choices – our rather our protein choices – have also a carbon footprint and an impact on climate change. The US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published a meat eater’s guide online for people to assess the climate impact of their food choices. Indeed, the climate impacts of industrial meat production and consumption are multiple, in terms of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and harm to the environment. From digestion-generated methane (a GHG 25 times more potent than CO2) and manure (air and water pollution by animal waste) to feed production (including fertilizers, fuel, pesticides and water used for cropland) and processing (farmhouses and slaughterhouses activities), as well as transportation (of animals, supplies and retail products) and conservation (in supermarkets and at home), the production channel of industrial meat reveals not quite environmentally-friendly. Here also, CleanMetrics (the partners of EWG) has designed an interesting infographic to represent the carbon footprint of various foods compared with the distance made with a car.

This idea of ecological footprint can be related the one of entropy. Indeed, in his 2011-book, The Third Industrial Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan), Jeremy Rifkin (pp.198-203) draws a parallel between the concept of entropy (the thermodynamic transformation process by which energy is lost in the process of energy production itself) and the food chain in a complex and industrial civilisation. Describing the “energy that goes into a beefsteak” into eleven steps, he shows that the conversion process is ridiculous compared to the “expenditure of energy to grow the feed, fatten the animal, package the cuts, and send them to their final destination on the family table”, to ultimately be digested by the body and returned to the environment as waste.

So on one hand there is the energy consumption induced by the industrial processes, and on the other there is the simple “entropy bill”. The latest would account for about 18% of GHG emissions generated by cattle and livestock in general, because of nitrous oxide and methane emissions (which the global warming effect is way more important than carbon dioxide). It would be the second leading source of climate change, behind buildings and before worldwide transportation.

Jeremy Rifkin, to clarify a “fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of wealth” and to provide a larger intellectual opening, proposes to analyse GDP – generally associated with the measure of the wealth generated by a country – from a thermodynamic point of view: GDP would become a “measure of the temporary energy value embedded in the goods or services and an accumulation of entropic waste”, or a gross domestic cost. If we analyse the economic progress as an “entropy stream”, then economic growth become impossible, “since every time resources are consumed, a portion becomes unavailable for future use”.

The value of a good, and particularly food, is temporary, but its cost for environment is ever-long lasting. To conclude, we may say that infographics may simplify too much the implications of one’s food choice, even if they make it well visible. Indeed, if water is food, are we also eating carbon emissions? According to most media, and even the UN, on a long term basis, we should in fact better prepare for eating insects.