How to convince consumers to buy the “wonky” vegetables?

Large amounts of unharvested vegetables do not make it to the shops even though they are edible, simply because they look less-than-perfect. For example, a recent study found this number to be 42% in North Carolina. This means that resources such as water, land, fuel, fertilizer, but also labour, are wasted on vegetables that never make it on our plates.

But are consumers willing to buy vegetables that are a little wonky?

A recent study examined whether promoting misshapen carrots’ personal or societal benefits would encourage consumers to buy them. The personal benefit message communicated that imperfect carrots’ nutritional quality is the same as that of perfect-looking carrots, and the societal message described the social and environmental costs of throwing away vegetables that are perfectly edible.

The researchers tested this in two hypothetical scenarios: shopping at a conventional grocery store, or a farmers market.

All in all, participants disliked bunches that included imperfect carrots and were willing to pay consistently less for those carrots than they would pay for a batch of 100% standard carrots.

The researchers also found that either one of these two messages on their own are ineffective.

When participants were presented with both messages in the farmers market condition, they were willing to buy batches including the “ugly” carrots. In other words, the setting of where the imperfect vegetables are sold plays a role in whether consumers are willing to buy them. The researchers explain that at a farmers market consumers have an expectation of realness, and imperfection is part of naturalness. This effect was not observed in the grocery store condition.

They found that the most profitable way to sell these vegetables was in a mix of standard and ugly, at 40% ugly and 60% standard. However, most participants were only interested in buying this mix at a small discount, and not full price.

Researchers emphasize the need to “rebrand” non-standard vegetables as being natural and just as healthy, to eventually reduce the discounts on these products. They do not need to be perceived as inferior food that is worth less, but as vegetables that are just as good.

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