A survey of 2,000 consumers across the UK, US, France and Germany revealed that 73% of shoppers are open to purchasing wonky fruit and veg. A total of 81% of those shopping in-store responded positively to the option, but this slips to 52% online, an increasingly popular channel for customers.

The research from analytics provider Blue Yonder shows that nine in ten grocery retailers believe that people would buy the imperfect fruit and veg at a discount.

“Discounting imperfect produce helps overcome the waste problem in the supply chain,” Retail Industry director Matt Hopkins said. “However, for it to have a real impact on waste reduction, retailers need to understand what demand will be for products – wonky or not – to accurately stock the right amount of ‘imperfect’ versus ‘perfect’ fruit and vegetables.

“It would be pointless to reduce waste in the supply chain, only to see retailers having to throw it away from the supermarket/distribution centres’ shelves.”

Price on imperfection

The survey reveals that imperfection would come at a cost to retailers, as 90% of respondents said they would need a discount to incentivise them, with 22% requiring a half-price reduction.

Almost two-thirds said they would need a discount of at least 20%, although willingness drops to 46% when looking at UK consumers alone. French shoppers are the most accepting of imperfection, with 93% stating they will buy at a discount, with the UK close behind at 80%.

The poll highlights a difference in attitudes between genders and age groups globally. Just under half of 25-34-year-olds said they already buy wonky fruit and veg, while 42% of the 55+ category said they wouldn’t even consider the option. Men are more opposed to buying wonky fruit and veg than women, according to the research, which notes opposition at 21% and 17% respectively.

“The findings also indicate that accurate markdown pricing is needed to successfully sell imperfect fruit and vegetables,” Hopkins said. “Pricing ‘imperfect fruit and veg’ versus ‘perfect fruit and veg’ will add to the complexity and number of decisions in a world where grocery is already struggling to keep pace.

“The use of advanced machine learning algorithms for the best decisions, delivered daily is important for survival and success. Perhaps most important for the sale of perfect versus imperfect ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables is that advanced machine learning algorithms can simultaneously optimize for price and replenishment, enabling the grocery retailer to accurately stock, replenish and without risking profitability.”

Consumer engagement

The wonky veg issue was brought to the nation’s attention back in November 2015 when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste series revealed that as much as 40% of farmers’ crops are being rejected by supermarkets because they are not the right shape or colour.

The aftermath of this exposure has seen a number of stores such as Asda and Tesco introduce ‘wonky veg’ lines into UK stores. These are fruit and vegetable lines that do not meet strict aesthetic standards of supermarket produce but are still perfectly edible.

But while food re-distribution programmes from supermarkets that offer up free meals from surplus food stock have proved popular, questions remain about how the consumer will interact with these new wonky veg campaigns.

With households acting as the largest generator food waste in the UK, wasting 7.3m tonnes per year, prominent food waste activists have consistently called both on the UK Government and supermarket retailers to step up efforts. 

Last month, edie ran a feature on household food waste which called on industry experts from the retail, regulation and consumer spheres, to investigate how the retailers can convince consumers to change our behaviours and stop throwing away food.

edie’s Resource Management Month

March is edie’s Resource Management Month, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the most effective ways of driving a resource revolution.

From recycling and recovery to closed-loop solutions, our Resource Management Month will explore the various ways businesses can help to deliver an economy that has moved away from ‘take, make, waste’ to a circular economy-based model based on resource efficiency, re-use and redistribution.

Read all of our resource management content here.

George Ogleby

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