Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder.
So officials with Sobeys Quebec are hoping that culinary-minded consumers will fall for the imperfect fruits and vegetables that are now on sale at all 290 IGA stores in la belle province.
For six weeks beginning Aug. 12, a half-dozen varieties of odd-looking fruits and vegetables will be sold in the produce sections of all Quebec IGA stores.
Several recipes and culinary uses for misshapen members of the six – cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, beets, sweet peppers, and apples, depending on season and availability – are also being featured in IGA’s weekly flyers.
An offshoot of IGA’s year-old Joy of Eating Better program, which aims to both inspire and encourage Quebeckers to eat healthier by making responsible food choices and cooking more, the program offers people nine reasons to love less-than-perfect produce.
Those reasons include the fact that all of the produce is grown in Quebec, it is priced 30% less on average than standard produce, it has the same taste and nutritional value as standard produce, and it provides a quick and easy way to stock up or make homemade smoothies, juices, compotes, soups, sauces and marinades during the harvest season.
“The campaign is really a response to customer demand,” company spokesperson Laurie Fossat told Canadian Grocer. “There’s been a lot of talk about it.”
According to Fossat, the idea was likely inspired by news reports in recent years about grocers in Europe and the United States trying to combat food waste by selling so-called ‘ugly’ produce.
Last summer in particular, Intermarché, the third largest supermarket chain in France, launched an ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ marketing campaign that featured seven misshapen, humorous fruits and vegetables, including a grotesque apple, the ridiculous potato, the hideous orange, and the disfigured eggplant.
The chain has also devoted an aisle in its stores to ugly produce, which are marked down 30 percent from the prices of more publicly presentable fruits and veggies.
That campaign followed the lead of other major grocers across the European Union, which had officially declared 2014 ‘The European Year Against Food Waste’ in an effort to reduce the estimated 300 million tons of food that is thrown away in the EU annually.
A recent Canadian study estimated that $27 billion worth of food is wasted here annually.
However, Canadian food retailers have been slow to see the beautiful side of ugly fruit.
“The reality is that we don’t have (them) in our stores,” Alain Dumas, senior director, public affairs and digital strategy at Sobeys Quebec, wrote in an email on the subject of ugly produce in July, 2015.
“Vegetables are graded at the source by producers. The ones that don’t meet commercial standards are sent to food processors.”
According to Fossat, the new campaign is less a turnaround in Sobeys Quebec’s thinking on the matter of food waste, and more an original way to promote healthier foods and eating.