WHAT IS UGLY FOOD?

GRIM is Danish for "ugly" and Denmark's first fruit and veg box that is exclusively filled with imperfect-looking and surplus produce. Why? If an apple or carrot is not big, red or straight enough, it cannot be sold in a supermarket.
Perfectly beautiful but there was simply too much of it
rejected at the supermarket door because of wrong ordering
mislabelled
scratched on the surface
might need a few days on the shelf
too big
too small
a bit soft
wrongly coloured
misshapen
very ripe

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If food waste was a country, it’d be the #3 global greenhouse gas emitter.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Educate yourself

WHAT DRIVES FOOD WASTE?

Food waste happens at all steps of our food chain. In Europe, over a third of total farm production is lost for aesthetic reasons. On top of that, about 20% of all food grown is overproduced. It’s a pain to the farmers, and of course, Mother Earth. Globally about 21% of the world’s freshwater use and 28% of arable land goes to grow food we don’t eat. At the same time we are worried that we don’t have enough food for the growing population. Something is rotten here, and it’s not an apple 🤔

It becomes crystal clear that combating the problem of food waste requires key changes in how food is sold. So let’s dig deeper: what drives food waste?

Marketing standards for fresh produce

Yes, such a thing exists. The European Union has a system of classifying the aesthetics of fresh food. To be precise, class extra and class one fruit and veg is what you’ll normally get in the shop. Per definition, these veggies are “uniform in size, shape and colour”. Only the slightest difference, such as spotted skin or a slightly crooked figure, results in downgrading and makes it significantly harder for farmers to sell food that falls outside the beauty norm - simply because there is no market for those veggies to be sold. As a result, produce that doesn’t meet these standards may be lost from the food supply chain, never seeing a supermarket shelf – it may not get past the supplier, or even leave the farm.

So why do marketing standards exist? Efficiency, baby. It’s easier to pack and ship produce that looks the same and improves the competitiveness of international trade of agricultural produce  within the EU member states. It’s all about the money.

Retailers private standards

The food distribution sector in Europe is oligopolistic in nature, meaning a small number of supermarket chains control a large market share. Once a farm reaches a certain farm size, they most likely work together with only one of the few players in the game. In order to keep their strict contractual obligations to deliver a specific amount of produce that also looks “perfect” enough, a proportion of what’s grown is expected to never be sold. That’s all the ugly produce, of course. So what’s a farmer got to do? Overproduce a lot, about 20% more than they are expected to sell in the first place. And yeah, they practicing selective harvesting, where pickers are trained to take only the produce that will meet retailer’s standards for sale. And what happens to all the ugly and perfect but too many veggies out on the field? They often go unharvested, resulting in food waste. Sad, sad world. 

Labelling

Labelling of fresh produce is another manifestation of private retail standards and demonstrates the power of supermarkets in defining a message. Often, consumers mistake labels like “best before” for indication of quality. In the same manner, by rejecting imperfect looking produce on their shelves, supermarkets send a signal that “ugly” means “less quality”, where it’s all but a worked out strategy to keep the prices high for perfect produce. Once again, money is king.

Consumer preferences

What produce should ‘typically’ look like guides purchase intentions. “Beauty is good” is the way to go for most, as consumers are more likely to purchase something that is familiar and recognisable - taken into consideration the lack of experience with abnormal-looking produce since it’s literally no where to buy.

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“We are so rich in Denmark that we have plenty of everything
and can say no to whatever suits us."

PER, OWNER OF ØSTERKROG GARTNERI WHO JUST HAD 17.000 HEADS OF BROCCOLI REJECTED AT A COOP SUPERMARKET DUE TO SLIGHTLY DAMAGED FLORETS