If you go into any supermarket in the western world you will be greeted with rows of perfect-looking vegetables, all of uniform size, often shiny and frequently wrapped in plastic. Any imperfect looking produce will have either been turned into something where it is unrecognisable (soup, purée etc) or, in far too many cases, have been rejected by the supermarket buyers leaving the farmer no choice but to plough it back into the soil. Supermarkets will argue that they have been pushed to supply this perfect looking produce because that is what their customers want. Customers now expect this but only because they have been conditioned to believe that only perfect looking means the best in quality.
It's a chicken and egg situation but really it doesn't matter how it came about because the end result today is the same - it results in a large amount of fresh produce being rejected and wasted which cannot be sustainable. Therefore, when I saw a video on Facebook that showed that InterMarché (one of France's big supermarkets) was starting to sell "Ugly Veg" I was very interested. It showed forked carrots, lumpy peppers and all sorts of other misshapen vegetables (and fruit) for sale under the banner "Les Légumes Moches" and went on to say how they would taste exactly the same as other produce when in a purée, smoothie or soup.
Actually I was more than interested, I was excited. This seemed like a great step in the right direction ... only when I went to my local InterMarché there was no Ugly Veg to be seen. Imagine my pleasure then, when a couple of weeks ago Les Carrottes Moches (Ugly Carrots) turned up at my local branch. Great news .... or maybe not so great.
|Les Carottes Moches|
On closer examination the carrots were not what I would have called ugly, but were in fact a mixture of broken and split roots, many were poor quality and some were even mouldy. And at 75c/kg they were only 9c/kg cheaper than the Top Budget range of carrots, which are washed, bagged and of much better quality. (For UK comparison, Sainsbury Basics carrots are currently 57p or 76c/kg)
I did buy some and I can, in fact, report that they made a very nice soup mixed with butternut squash. However, I seriously doubted whether many other people would buy them, when seemingly much better carrots were just 9c/kg more expensive. Also if you go to the local agricultural merchant/garden centre you can buy a 20 kilo bag of horse carrots of identical quality to the Carrottes Moches for €4.30 or 21½c/kg. Our pigs love them but they are fine for us to eat too, and very tasty.
|20kgs bag of horse carrots|
I decided that I would head back to InterMarché and see how many people were buying the Ugly Carrots, only to find on arrival that they were no longer for sale. This fact would appear to speak for itself and I suspect few people had puchased any.
I find this a rather sad state of affairs. The idea of selling ugly veg is, in my opinion, brilliant. It saves waste and begins the process of re-educating people to accept that all veg, what-ever it's shape or size, is just as good to eat as it's perfect looking cousin. I also know from experience that the tastiest strawberries from our garden are, in fact, the small, oddly shaped ones that you will never find on a supermarket shelf. So I do think Intermarché needs to have a rethink of the Ugly Veg programme in order to succeed in getting it's customers to accept less than perfection is just as good. It will takes time, a gentle approach and something that will help them to save money.
This therefore is my message to InterMarché. By all means sell your ugly veg as they are absolutely fine. But you also need to:
- Reduce the price significantly compared to the cheapest alternative
- Start by introducing somewhat better-looking ugly veg and only slowly introduce more extreme ones
- At all times ensure that whilst the vegetables may be ugly they must never be mouldy, offcuts or of poor quality.
Over to you then. Do you think "Ugly Veg" is a good idea and would you be happy to buy such produce? Would you do this at any price or only if the price is significantly cheaper. Do you think it is something that will catch on? I would be very interested to hear you views.