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Convincing people to buy ‘wonky’ vegetables could help reduce food waste

A row of wonky carrots
A row of wonky carrots   -   Copyright  Canva
By Nichola Daunton

Carrots come in many shapes and sizes, from long and straight to weird and wonky but consumers are often scared of misshapen veg.

From those that look like they’re hugging, to something a little more x-rated, if you grow carrots organically it’s actually pretty common for the orange vegetable not to be straight.

But new research from Ohio State University has discovered that shoppers need a bit of persuading when it comes to picking up wonky veg in the supermarket.

How do you persuade people to ‘buy wonky’?

The study found that consumers can be very picky when it comes to choosing their carrots. Using hypothetical shopping scenarios, the researchers discovered that participants needed to be told wonky carrots were just as good for them as so-called ‘perfect’ ones.

And not only that, display marketing also needed to inform them that buying ‘ugly’ carrots would help reduce food waste too.

The researchers found that this double-edged approach was the most effective way of driving sales and that one message alone wasn’t as effective.

The findings also showed that shoppers would buy mixed bunches - containing straight and crooked carrots - but they needed a discount incentive to do so. They’d only buy them if 60 per cent of the bunch were the usual ‘perfect’ carrot, too.

How much food is wasted because of appearance?

While sales of wonky vegetables have risen in recent years thanks to marketing campaigns like Morrisons in the UK’s wonky range, there is still a huge food waste problem in the industry.

A 2018 study by the University of Edinburgh estimated that 50 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables were discarded in Europe every year for cosmetic reasons.

A 2018 study by the University of Edinburgh estimated that 50 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables were discarded in Europe every year for cosmetic reasons.

The power of the supermarkets and their aesthetic standards have been blamed for this wastage. Much of the unwanted produce is ploughed back into fields or sent to landfill.

Consumers behaviour needs to change too

While supermarkets shoulder a lot of the blame for food waste, the views of consumers need to shift too.

Participants in the study expressed consistent dislike for bunches with any ugly carrots, and they also stated that they wanted to pay less for imperfect ones too.

Interestingly though, consumers at farmers markets were much more willing to buy less than perfect bunches when they had green leaves attached.

Interestingly though, consumers at farmers markets were much more willing to buy less than perfect bunches when they had green leaves attached.

This may reveal that these shoppers are expecting carrots to look more realistic and as if they have come ‘straight out of the ground’ instead of the pre-washed and sometimes even pre-chopped veg found in supermarkets.