Would you buy a carrot if it looked like something that belonged in the Sexmuseum Amsterdam instead of a prop in a Bugs Bunny cartoon? Well, if you live in the United Kingdom and do not mind the sight of carrots like the ones pictured here, shopping for produce other than cucumbers will become a tad more exciting. Confronting diminished supplies, the venerable supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has announced that “ugly fruits and vegetables” will now be available for purchase. The company has no choice but to greenlight the sales of produce that looks as if it belongs in a red light district.
The core reason, however, is not to spice up a mundane trip to the grocery store, but to confront the UK’s driest spring in almost 60 years. Add the triple whammy of a very wet June and an unseasonably rainy fall, the aftermath has been a 25 percent drop in the UK’s total farm production yield. Meanwhile, food waste continues as an unending problem on both sides of the pond and retailers’ emphasis on having only perfectly shaped produce in their stores only adds to the problem. Now it is time for food retailers to join other companies and take a more practical approach towards this issue.
For years British supermarket chains leaned on their produce suppliers to meet a high standards appearance with the result that perfectly edible food often ended up in the dustbin. But according to The Guardian, the recent odd weather patterns have led to even more produce showing blemishes or scars. The lack of perfect and pretty produce has been a financial strain on farmers already flummoxed by constant climate volatility as they have less product to sell on the market.
Therefore, Sainsbury’s, which dates back to the Victorian era and now operates over 1100 stores, has embraced this year’s “bumper crop” of ugly vegetables and fruits. The company has pledged to use dowdy looking fruits and vegetables for its prepared foods and baked goods. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s has promised an education campaign to encourage its customers to accept imperfect produce, teach them how to prepare it and, in the meantime, support British farming. One of the company’s executives, Judith Batchelar, attempted to engage Sainsbury’s customers by asking questions such as “How do you feel about ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables?” and whether they would be willing to buy and eat them.
At a time when foods prices are on a trajectory going nowhere but up, the sudden affection for doppelgänger fruits and veggies is actually a slick business opportunity. With both sides of the Atlantic suffering during this relentless 2012 drought, and hunger a growing social problem, the hunt for frumpy looking veggies is an opportunity to change consumer behavior–and maybe even lead to a little mischief in your local produce section.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo courtesy Sainsbury’s.