What! There’s ugly in advertising?

How do you like your fruit and veg from the supermarket? Apples fresh from the Garden of Eden. Carrots so vividly orange that you’d see them in the dark. Mange-tout that’s pea-green. Melons so perfectly spherical you could use them to strike tenpins at a bowling alley. It’s somehow got into our psyche that what looks good must taste good. And conversely, what doesn’t, doesn’t. Would you believe it, ripeness and taste are not part of the marketing standards required in stores, but the major considerations are good-looking regular-sized produce. 

French store, Intermarché, I salute you for producing the most outstanding marketing campaign of recent years - Inglorious fruit and vegetables. Fresh produce as nature intended. Give me five of these a day please! It’s little wonder that the campaign has been acknowledged by the the advertising industry as very special.

Nudged by news that we throw away some 300 million tons of food worldwide each year, the European Union declared that 2014 be the Year Against Food Waste.

Intermarché’s response was to celebrate fruit and vegetables that were just plane ugly, but bursting with the same levels of flavour and nutrition. Sitting on their shelves in a dedicated aisle were some of the most peculiar creations to hang from a plant or rise from the soil. Advertising agency Marcel, along with photographer Patrice de Villiers, made heroes of the produce on posters and point of sale. The ridiculous potato, A hideous orange. The failed lemon. The grotesque apple. The unfortunate clementine. You get the picture.

The idea is a brilliant one and the execution of the idea is uncomplicated, and dare I say aesthetically pleasing. What fun it must have been finding wonderfully odd-shaped produce and accentuating its oddity with every photographic shot. The campaign included print, film and radio as well as in-store branding, labelling and sales receipts. The copywriting is beautifully crafted too. The french public came to the quick conclusion that a misshapen apple is an apple before it is misshapen.



For farmers, this was great news. Surprisingly, up to 40% of fresh produce was being rejected because it didn’t meet the aesthetic standards of the retailers. Intermarché were re-writing the script. And whilst the perfectionist shopper may have just passed them by, a juicy 30% discount set against their perfect counterparts was enough to stir up a great deal of interest. To combat any doubts as to the flavour of the once cast-off produce, the supermarket produced soups and shakes for shoppers to sample.

The result was a huge thumbs-up with supermarket traffic overall increasing by nearly 25%.

Initially piloted in a store in Provins just outside Paris it quickly grew into other stores. An average of 1.2 tons was sold in the first two days at each new store. Intermarché have now introduced the concept to all of it’s 1,800 stores. And its competitors in France have also introduced their own version of the same principle. It’s gone international too, with stores in Portugal, the UK and more recently in Canada. The US is not far behind either, they throw away more than 50% of their fruit and veg, most of it never leaving the field in which it is grown. But if there is a downside, it’s that the ugly fruit opportunity is unsustainable, there simply isn’t enough to make it a regular feature in the aisles of supermarkets.

What a glorious initiative for Inglorious Fruit and Vegetables. Just goes to prove that even in a world where the media focus on perfection, advertisers promote perfection and consumers demand perfection, there is beauty and reality in the celebration of imperfection. This is absolute proof that ugly can fit snugly in the world of advertising.


By Ian Langlois, Creative Director at LRD.