An apple with a spot on it or a dented packet of juice. Consumers are not interested. Our distaste for ‘ugly’ food is strong, Wageningen researchers have discovered. About half of all food products for human consumption never reach our plates. ‘Supermarkets prefer not to put misshapen products on their shelves because no one buys them,’ says Ilona de Hooge of the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour chair group. This lead to wasted resources and financial losses. ‘We have therefore investigated under what circumstances consumers are prepared to buy and eat suboptimal products.’
The researchers conducted an online survey among 4200 consumers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. They gave the respondents two choices: an optimal and a suboptimal product. The suboptimal products deviated from the norm in appearance, use-by date or packaging. One half of the respondents were asked which of the two products they would buy, and the other half were asked which of the products they would eat if they had them at home.
Only 2.6 percent of the respondents were prepared to put an apple with a spot on it in their supermarket trolleys, and one in five people said they would eat such a piece of damaged fruit at home. Even products of which only the packaging is damaged were deemed unacceptable. Only six percent of the respondents were prepared to buy a packet of fruit juice with a dent in it, and one third would drink from such a packet at home. Oddly shaped food products were the least off-putting for people.
It also appeared that young people are less bothered about imperfect products than older people. ‘A lot of attention has been paid to food waste in recent years, and the young generation seems to be more concerned about sustainability,’ says De Hooge.
Retailers could use the research results to adjust their marketing, thinks De Hooge. ‘People are more willing to buy suboptimal products if they are on offer. And you could also emphasize on the label that by buying this product you help reduce food waste. Or you take a different tack and actually make the products more expensive, emphasizing their authenticity. We are still studying these options.’