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Consumers Sense Thrifty Beauty in Imperfection

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The consumer desire to be thrifty, kick-started by the ‘Great Recession’, has not dissolved as the financial health of many consumers slowly improves. An interesting and growing trend sees the development of more real world and online brands meeting the consumer interest in substantial savings on essentials, whether this is  expressed via interest in ‘substandard’ just-past its sell-by date produce, “ugly food”,  or in welcoming  ‘pre-loved’ branded goods  resold by the company that originally made them, or by other consumers.

Out-of-date buying

Market stalls selling packaged food close to or just past its sell-by date and outlets selling clothing and other non-food goods from previous season ranges are not a new consumer find, but the setting is now often mainstream supermarket chains quick to stress the difference between the “use by” date on food and the “best before” date - the latter being fit for consumption. They report thriving sales, driven by consumers keen to save on everyday items and high profile chefs creating nutritious, appetising dishes from produce just past its sell-by date.

In the US, former Trader Joe’s president, Doug Rauch, has an “expired food” store, The Daily Table, for lower income consumers, with prepared meals aiming to compete with fast food restaurant options. “The number-one leading problem is affordable nutrition,” Rauch told the Boston Globe. “For the 50 million Americans who are food insecure, their solution is not a full stomach. It’s a healthy meal”.

Thrifty UK shoppers have boosted the turnover of “Approved Food”,  a brand selling expired food, to a recently reported £4million. Co-owner, Mr. Cluderay, told Mail Online in March 2015 that the online success story appeals to busy mums and bargain hunters. An average customer spends £40 weekly on “cupboard staples” such as pasta, dog food, sweets, flour, sauces and toilet tissue.

‘Ugly food’ tastes fine

‘Ugly food’ featured in many media headlines last year. The consumer interest in consumption for positive change as well as thrift lies behind the success of an enterprise collecting and selling ‘ugly fruit’ in Lisbon, for example, run by renewable energy consultant Isabel Soares who seeks out produce failing the “dictatorship of aesthetics”.  An article in the New York Times on her thriving business, was subtitled “Ugly fruits are beautiful in the eyes of beholders who are financially pressed”.

ReFood, is a Danish supermarket and charitable endeavour launching this year to sell food found to be unfit for sale due to cosmetic or labelling reasons, alongside expired food at a 50-70% discount, including fresh dairy products.  It is aimed at those on a tight budget and the sustainability conscious.

Clearly ‘ugly food’ sales are lucrative as well as ‘green’. UK premium supermarket chain, Waitrose publicised its sale of weather-blemished apples last summer and autumn.  The brand’s apple buyer, Greg Sehringer, said: "We are lucky that our customers are savvy enough to understand the unpredictability of farming and to trust that the fruit will be just as delicious, even if the apples don’t look as perfect as usual". Other European supermarket chains following this trend include Sainsbury’s (see its current “food rescue” campaign), The Edeka Group, Germany’s largest supermarket corporation with its discounted “Keiner ist perfekt” (nothing is perfect) label,  Billa in Austria (its “Wunderling” products) Swiss leader Coop’s line called “Unique”, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills and Maxi stores in Canada  with their  30% cheaper “Naturally Imperfect” brand and French supermarket Intermarché, celebrating the beauty of “hideous, ugly and failed” fruit and vegetables.

Brands not leaving reselling to eBay et al

Brands such as Dell are getting in on the sharing economy by reselling their own products while clothing brand Patagonia, works with eBay to redistribute pre-owned items and extend its customer base.


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