Winning ugly: Profit maximizing marketing strategies for ugly foods

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Ugly foods meet nutritional and safety benchmarks but deviate from cosmetic and size standards. The marketability of ugly food is a major factor that frustrates field-level food rescue efforts. We investigate opportunities to promote ugly foods in a way that converts uniform negative preferences towards ugly food to more diverse and horizontally differentiated preferences where some consumers prefer ugly food to standard offerings and pay a premium. We conduct an online discrete choice experiment and find a portfolio of marketing strategies that significantly enhance respondent willingness to pay for ugly carrots. Dual messages that simultaneously (1) link the purchase of ugly food to reductions in food waste and (2) suggest ugly food is natural and authentic significantly improve willingness to pay. We also find respondents tolerate some level of mixing of ugly with standard carrots. We find the most profitable strategy is to form bunches that include 40% ugly and 60% standard carrots and to sell the bunches with green leaves attached at farmers markets where consumers receive dual marketing messages. Profit simulations confirm that, in the absence of such marketing strategies, farmers rationally create waste by discontinuing harvest when the percentage of remaining carrots that are ugly is high.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services

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