“Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” Triumph over European Bureaucrats


EspañolThe European Union marked 2014 as the year to put an end food waste. While politicians created a commission to debate the best way to resolve the food waste situation, a French supermarket chain, Intermaché, took matters into their own hands and launched their own food waste reduction campaign called “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables.”

For various reasons, it is a perfect example of how a complex problem can be solved in a more efficient and less bureaucratic way by private industries, through incentives already present in the market.

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It all began when the European Union decided designated 2104 as the “European Year Against Food Waste.” This isn’t a bad idea, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to any kind of action. Politicians’ good intentions, are at times just that: intentions. A decree will not magically solve the problem, nor will cautious government campaigns.

Intermaché did not wait for officials to take the first step, and one simple market solution did more for the food waste issue than all of the European bureaucracies put together. They targeted one of the main problems: 300 million tons of fruits and vegetables that are thrown away because they are oddly-sized or misshapen, leading consumers to believe they are not good quality products.

Intermaché saw an opportunity to raise awareness about food waste by offering customers these “reject fruits” at a lower price to prevent them from being wasted. They launched the campaign Les fruits et légumes moches, or “Ugly Fruits and Vegetables.” They bought the produce their suppliers would normally throw away, put them on the shelves, and sold them for 30 percent less than the regular price of the more “attractive” fruits and vegetables. Then, they waited for customers to decide for themselves whether they wanted the low-priced products or not.

Intermaché’s campaign. (The Food Lab)

To show costumers that the only difference between the two options was their appearance, they prepared soups and fruit juices with the produce that would normally go to waste. They demonstrated there was no difference in taste, and without any outside pressure, people were sold on the low prices. In one month, Intermaché sold 1.2 tons of “ugly” fruits and vegetables in 1,800 stores, saving 2,160 tons of fruit!

People understood the problem, became aware of it, and helped find a solution through their own purchases. The campaign created a lot of buzz, and the media soon began suggesting other supermarkets follow Intermaché’s example.

It was no zero sum game, and everybody won: producers were able to sell what they originally thought was waste, Intermaché was able to offer their customers a choice, the market expanded, and customers were able to spend less for the same nutritious product.

The supermarket’s solution was easy, quick, and practical for everyone. It did not cost taxpayers a cent— on the contrary, it benefited them by giving them access to more affordable fruits and vegetables.

Citizens did more in one month than government decrees intended to do in a year!

The “inglorious fruits and vegetables.” (Facebook)

Translated by Anneke Ball.

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