Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lifting the ban on Ugly

While I’ve been talking about Winning Ugly Together this year, I’ve had more support at my back than I dreamed of. Ugly is roaring back into hearts and minds everywhere and the same ideas are at stake: authenticity, focus, value. Ugly gives us all a whack on the side of the head to shake out complacency and come up with motivating insight.

Where’s the best place to track the rise and rise of Ugly? No, not models or movies. Fruit and vegetables have the answers. Seriously. In the Lovemarks book I mentioned the durian, that foul-smelling, great-tasting fruit that people love to hate. It’s knobbly and bumpy and won’t be winning beauty contests any time soon. Me, I’m not a fan, but the durian is at the vanguard of a new delight in new flavors, new textures, new colors, new authenticity. In that company, ugly can win.

Put the growing popularity of this strange fruit and its like together with the growing demand for fruit and vegetables that look more natural, and we’re headed somewhere interesting. Decades of sacrificing fragrance and taste for visual perfection have ended. The European Commission is right in there. We all know how much they like making rules, but this year they have abolished more than 20 of them. Twenty or so rules that banned all but the most perfect-looking produce from supermarkets. Yes, the wasteful “ban on ugly”(as the EU’s agriculture commissioner herself called it) is history for 26 fruits and vegetables. But even though this will cut down on waste (and the waste we’re talking about is huge: Sainsbury’s reckons the rules had cut out about 20% of what is produced in the U.K.) there’s more going on here.

We’re seeing change pushed by consumers who are more and more engaged in their personal search for true value. And they are finding it in authenticity, sustainability, and plain common sense. Yes, the ugly fruit – including my favorite, the Jamaican ugli fruit, which has got to be the official fruit of Winning Ugly Together – serve as terrific symbols of what people are wanting now. The fact that the Commission kept the ugly rules in play for three-quarters of produce sold in the EU just shows that while they know which way the wind is blowing, they can’t take flight.

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