Kinky Cukes and Bent Cookies: French Anti-waste Stores Sell Damaged Food

An anti-waste grocery network selling “unsellable” products at discount prices is taking off in France

Humor also sells misshapen products, like this sign reading “I’m kind of freaky for a cucumber, but let’s keep this between us”.
Julien Caktus

Oddly-shaped cucumbers, yoghurts nearing their expiry date, dented cookie packages — that’s what the customers of Nous Épiceries Anti-Gaspi (“We Are Anti-Waste Grocery Stores”) can expect to find in the new brand’s shops in Brittany, France.

According to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, food waste is legion and the market for unattractive yet viable food is huge.

In France alone, 10 million tons of food are thrown away every year. Manufacturers are responsible for 53 percent of this waste, while distributors and end consumers toss the remaining 47 percent into the trash.

Throwing away perfectly edible food worsens the overexploitation of natural resources such as water and agricultural land.

To fight this squandering of food and resources, French entrepreneurs Charles Lottmann and Vincent Justin have created a chain of groceries stores offering unsold items. The idea was Lottmann’s. He had been working for a year at Phénix, a French company fighting food waste with a brand, Les gueules cassées (“Broken Faces”), selling "ugly" fruit and vegetables at cut-rate prices in supermarkets. Justin brought in entrepreneurial background. The duo put together their savings, plus money from family and friends.

On the shop shelves, labels explain precisely the origin of the products
Julien Caktus

The first store opened in May 2018 in Melesse, Brittany, and the second opened last November in Saint Jouan-des-Guérets, near Saint-Malo, also in Brittany.

Why Brittany? "It is the leading agri-food region in France, with many producers who have become our partners. The inhabitants of the region are very aware of sustainable development," explains Lottmann, who is the company’s president.

They collect unsold products directly, now from 200 suppliers, from local market producers who deliver products every few days, to major manufacturers like Danone. The number of suppliers is growing by the week, he says.

Not beautiful but bargains

From fruit to vegetables, pantry staples, drinks, frozen foods, fresh meat or fish, and even beauty and hygiene products (end of series, promotions or damaged boxes), "a family of four can buy up to 75 percent of its groceries in these mini-markets," says Lottmann. The selection changes from one week to the next, so consumers must learn to adapt.

The anti-waste “Nous Épiceries” chain will count four grocery shops in France in June.
Julien Caktus

Though they won’t necessarily find the same brands as at a supermarket, the tradeoff might be worth it, since prices at these anti-waste stores are 30 percent lower than for traditional brands. In theory, this allows a family of four to save as much as 200 euros ($227) a month, says the company’s president.

For now, the contents of a typical shopping cart cost around 25 euros. The average price per product is only one euro, giving consumers a chance to discover the new concept. The number of regular clients has been increasing every day, a mix of bargain hunters and environmentally concerned citizens doing their shopping among wooden pallets as displays, attractively recycled cardboard furniture and second-hand trolleys.

On the Facebook page of the Melesse store, a customer named Pierre approves of this "beautiful initiative to fight against the aberration of food waste." Aurore thanks the store “for giving consumers the opportunity to buy products that make a difference," and Caroline appreciates that "you can vary your meals, thanks to the different items that arrive."

The 10 million tons of food thrown away every year in France represent 15.3 million tons of CO2-equivalent. Lottmann says that each grocery store prevents as much as 35 tons of food from ending up in the trash every month and 81 tons of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.

"Now that we have proven our concept, we are launching a second round of financing with the same shareholders, in order to move on to our true development phase,” he says. Two new stores are opening – one in Rennes at the end of April, and another in Laval, in western France, in June. The company currently has 20 employees but aims to open around 20 stores in the next three years, directly or via franchises. And hopefully, the concept could spread beyond France. It isn't the only country where food gets wasted.

This article is being published as part of Earth Beats, an international and collaborative initiative gathering 18 news media outlets from around the world to focus on solutions to waste and pollution.

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