Ugly produce is having a moment. After decades of going straight to landfills and compost heaps, three-legged carrots and bulbous tomatoes are starting to make it onto shelves at a few pioneering grocery stores.
For stores that aren’t quite ready to put weird-looking produce on display, a new brand in the Netherlands is selling the vegetables in a different form. Kromkommer–a play on the Dutch words for cucumber and crooked–blends imperfect potatoes and beets into soup and packages them up with cute cartoon versions of the misshapen veggies.
“For many retailers, wonky vegetables next to the ‘perfect’ vegetables is still a big step,” says Chantal Engelen, co-founder of Kromkommer. “Our soup is the step in between. It is a great way to tell the story and engage people around the topic. We are building a brand and make wonky cool. That way, it will become easier for the supermarkets to seek wonky produce. We create the demand. Our ideal goal is that all veggies are together on the shelves: straight and crooked, for the same price.”
The concept for the startup began in 2012, when the three founders learned that one reason we throw out 40% of the food we grow is that some of it isn’t considered pretty enough to leave the farm. For some crops, as much as 30% of a harvest might be deemed too ugly for stores. Some of that food makes it into other products, like ketchup, but much just gets thrown out.
The new soups, ranging from classics like tomato soup to seasonal varieties like gazpacho, each tell a little bit of the story of food waste. A carrot soup package calls itself “the best soup from the craziest vegetables,” and says, “You can save 160 grams of our friends.”
The brand launched last year, and consumers quickly became fans. “Most people don’t know anything about food waste and definitely not about the waste of produce because of their looks,” says Engelen. “When they find out they are amazed and love what we do.”
Many of the new companies focused on imperfect produce bank on the fact that it’s cheaper to buy, like this veggie subscription box. But Kromkommer is hoping that ugly carrots soon cost as much as their more photogenic counterparts.
“We discuss with our growers what a good price is for them,” Engelen says. “That is what we pay. The low value of food is the base of the problem of food waste. We should value food more and be willing to pay for it accordingly.”
They’re hoping to inspire more new brands to follow. “Because of our scale, the amount of veggies we rescue is not doing too much to address the huge amount that is wasted,” she says. “But the impact we have by simply doing it, giving an example to others and tell the story is worth a lot. We inspire others by showing that you can actually make money with saving veggies. At the end of the day it is money that makes the world go round. Hopefully that will motivate others to do the same thing.”