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Collaborative consumption, also known as the sharing economy, has become something of a buzzword. However, the habit of selling on, buying pre-owned products, pooling resources, or renting something for a fixed period rather than buying it outright, is already commonplace among post-recessionary consumers. In mid-2014, the global consumer adeptness at thrift continues, as do creative green-tinged commercial solutions designed to appeal to the zeitgeist.
At the end of May 2014, the New York Times reported on a new and thriving business in Portugal selling imperfect-looking fruit. The article is subtitled “Ugly fruits are beautiful in the eyes of beholders who are financially pressed”. It stresses that rigid EU rules reject and waste “ugly fruit” that doesn’t conform to over-zealous colour and shape criteria. This point was picked up by Isabel Soares, who sensed that “there is a market for fruits and vegetables deemed too ugly by government bureaucrats, supermarkets and other retailers to sell to their customers”. Six months ago, she was part of a newly launched cooperative, “Fruta Feia” (ugly fruit), which has since proved a hit with hard-pressed consumers, breaking what Ms. Soares terms “the dictatorship of aesthetics”. One satisfied customer, Ana Neves, a call centre worker, enthuses: “This food is of course cheap, but it’s also local, fresh and would otherwise go to waste, which really bothers me…I’ve looked closely at some of this stuff and can’t see why it can’t make it to the supermarket.” This success coincides with several media articles on skilled chefs who are creating nutritious, appetising dishes from produce just past its sell-by date.
UK upmarket supermarket chain, Waitrose, is poised to sell ‘blemished’ apples and tomatoes to curb food wastage and as anticipated cheaper alternatives. According to Waitrose fruit buyer Greg Sehringer: “We are lucky that our customers are savvy enough [and can trust] that the fruit will be just as delicious”.
Meanwhile, a 28th of May article in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper advocating the quality of much ‘expired’ food is by writer and cook, Rose Prince. She despairs when consumers bin edible food just past its best-before date but salutes supermarket executives from Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose among others who were recently reported admitting that they regularly ignore expiry dates at home.
Collaborative consumption is the norm for circa 75% of Spaniards, particularly Generation X and Y urbanites, a spring survey conducted in Spain by car-sharing company Avancar found. 79% of men and 73% of women had shared goods or services on at least one occasion, with those aged 35-44 and residents of Madrid and Barcelona the biggest sharers. Male respondents said they wanted to share luxury cars, while women preferred to share clothing and accessories.
Arguably, exposure to digital culture is making people more accepting of collaborative consumption. The main reason for sharing is initially economic, but morphs into something more social. In Berlin, greater numbers of homeowners who dream of living in the heart of the city have been forming collectives to project manage and build homes with the backing of Berlin’s Senat (local government) which is supporting them by securing sites, and offering ecological and architectural know-how.
In Israel, cafe chain Cofix, where coffee, sandwiches, fresh juice and baked goods all cost an affordable US$1.40 is a hit with customers, with new branches opening at a rapid pace. Since the first branch launched in Tel Aviv in October 2013, staff report a broad client base. Customers such as high tech executive, Saguy, who explains: “Nowadays, no salary is enough… Wherever you can save, you save. I wouldn’t bring a date here, but I’d come here before the date.”