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Ugly produce a hit for IGA

Quebec stores sold 3.6 tonnes of ugly produce over six-week campaign

Quebec food shoppers take funny-looking fruits and vegetables quite seriously.

That's what the results of a harvest-season sale of odd-looking, Quebec-grown fruits and vegetables at over 280 IGA stores seem to suggest.

According to a Sobeys Quebec press release issued this week, consumers snapped up 3.6 tonnes of six varieties of so-called ugly produce over a six-week period in Aug. and Sept.

Overall sales for the sad-sack fruits and vegetables — namely cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, beets, peppers and apples — were up 24% for the same six-week period a year ago.

Sales of misshapen beets, which are traditionally among the least popular produce items, were up a whopping 91 percent.

Carrot sales were also up (31%), as were tomatoes (20%), peppers (14%) and cucumbers (7%).

READ: Quebec IGAs stock odd-shaped produce

The results were a pleasant surprise for Sobeys Quebec officials.

"They were way beyond our expectations," said spokesperson Laurie Fossat.

Fossat credited the popularity of ugly fruit sales on cheaper prices (about 30% less than regular produce), large cooking- and preserves-friendly quantities like 15-lb bags of apples, and on the weekly promotion in flyers and on social media of recipes for that week's "star" fruit or vegetable.

She also echoed the press-release stated promise of Yvan Ouellet, Sobeys Quebec vice president of procurement & merchandising perishables, to repeat the sale next year.

"It will definitely be back," said Fossat. "We might even expand it to include other or different varieties of produce (and) harvests."

READ: Loblaw launches imperfect produce line

Canadian food expert Sylvain Charlebois said he was "pleased to hear, but not surprised" by the Sobeys Quebec sales numbers.

"I think it's a clear signal that consumers are ready and willing to buy more good produce at a lower price," said Charlebois, a food policy pundit and professor at the University of Guelph. "And maybe it reflects a sensible change in consumer demand for aesthetically pleasing and perfect produce that fuels food waste (and) doesn't reflect the natural connection between agriculture and Mother Nature."

He warned however that Sobeys Quebec will need to find adequate supplies of ugly produce if it hopes to sustain its rebate program.

"Procurement could become a major challenge," said Charlebois. "If you get consumers excited about something they can't get, you end up with angry customers who will shop elsewhere. "But I applaud Sobeys' efforts, because any campaign that gets people eating more locally-grown produce is a good thing."

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