Drinks from reclaimed sewage, insect-based products and gnarled fruit and vegetables, for many, these products are still a long way from the dinner table.

A recent New Zealand-United Kingdom study found stigma still surrounds sustainable food alternatives and marketers had a tough task to overcome a "yuck factor".

Imperfect food products are often bound for the bin because they do not fit the bill of being normal; they might have an extra limb or blemish but taste normal.

University of Auckland professor Nathan Consedine, who ran the study with two academics from the University of Sheffield and University of Surrey, said disgust could be thought of as the "don't eat that" emotion.

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"Disgust is a 'basic' emotional reaction that evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential contaminants," he said.

Asking what role disgust played in all of this, a study of 510 adults (half female) was launched to try to understand more about the cult of perfection.

In an online survey, participants were shown fruit, vegetables, insect-based foods, and drinks and medicines reclaimed from sewage, in a series of pairs of normal and alternative looking products.

Participants were then asked how much they would be willing to pay for the alternative products and to rate them based on which appeared tastier, healthier, visually appealing and nutritional.

The results determined the emotional feeling of disgust was putting people off sustainable alternative across all five food categories.

University of Auckland professor Nathan Consedine. Photo / Supplied
University of Auckland professor Nathan Consedine. Photo / Supplied

But just because something appeared to be disgusting did not mean it necessarily was. Anticipated disgust motivated avoidance even though people did not know whether disgust was going to be experienced, Consedine said.

"That's the way the system is wired up, to make you stay away from things that might be a threat.

"Systems like the disgust system are very conservative, so they're really prone to false positives. We get disgusted by things where there is no threat.

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"But because things look vaguely threatening and from a disgust point of view, it's just not worth the risk."

Selective consumption habits led to an estimated 50 per cent of all food produce getting wasted due to imperfections, United States research found.

This was another area which the study determined more work was needed, from a marketing point of view to get the idea of sustainable eating into people's minds.

Marketing was a key way to help get alternative products, which are as nutritionally valuable as their typical counterparts, on to dinner plates, Consedine said.

"Targeting the sort of evaluations people make about food may be one way to increase people's willingness to pay for atypical food products.

"Similarly, given that exposure tends to reduce disgust over time, plenty of free samples and in-store tasting may help increase consumption."

In a bid to reduce the amount of produce going in the bin uneaten, Countdown supermarkets launched The Odd Bunch in 2017.


Despite tasting the same, gnarled fruit and vegetables bin-bound are sold at a cheaper rate than their "normal" counterparts.

In the past year, sales of the strange produce skyrocketed by more than 145 per cent as more people take advantage of the opportunity.

Countdown's head of produce Steve Sexton previously said shoppers once preferred perfect-looking produce but times were changing.

"Our customers have been very open to giving imperfect produce a go; a few hail spots or blemishes aren't a good enough reason to let good food end up in the bin.

"As well as reducing waste, we've also been able to deliver improved profitability to our growers as they are utilising more of their crop."

Meanwhile, 37 stores across the Foodstuffs brand (New World, Pak'nSave) divert 90 per cent of food waste away from landfills.

Foodstuffs had put in a number of initiatives to reduce its food waste, even making pet food out of butchery scraps, a spokesperson said.

"We work with numerous service providers to continue to help our stores divert away from landfill, which include composting, biodiesel, stock feed, pet food and general recycling.

"In the 12 months up until March 2019, Foodstuffs stores donated the equivalent of 6.1 million meals to New Zealanders in need; food good enough to eat but not to sell."