In other parts of Europe, “ugly” fruit and vegetables have been sold in regular stores for a few years.
“The giant French food chain Intermarche had a great campaign for ugly food a year and a half ago,” said Louise Ungerth, director of the Stockholm Coop.
“And when I was in London in 2014 many stores had ugly fruit and vegetables in their basic range. For example misshapen carrots and potatoes with discoloured skin. The ugly potatoes were marketed as excellent for mashed potatoes,” Ungerth told the Swedish TT news agency.
According to Coop, 15 to 30 percent of fruit and vegetables are discarded before they reach shops, simply because of their appearance.
Some of this “ugly” stock will soon be sold for a reduced price in selected Swedish Coop stores.
This autumn will also see a new discount food store open, as Axfood launches a store in Stockholm in cooperation with the Stockholm Stadsmission (Stockholm City Mission).
There, old food, near its expiry date, will be sold. The prices will be up to 70 percent lower, but shoppers will need a special membership card in order to shop there, to prove that they have a higher need than others for discounted products.
According to Åsa Domeij, Head of Environmental and Social Responsibility at Axfood, “reducing food waste is an important part of our environmental and sustainability work. That we can also be involved in helping to make a social contribution is of course even better.”
Coca Cola Sweden, Nestle Sweden and Vinnova are among the other big corporate names involved in the new initiative.
The location of the new store is still being decided.
The move follows other similar 'social supermarkets' elsewhere in Europe including in Germany, Finland and France, the latter of which launched its first store of this kind some 15 years ago.
Coop's Louise Ungerth has a theory about why it has taken until now in Sweden to recognise that food is being wasted.
“In Sweden we are so used to the welfare state. Many seniors and families are struggling to keep up appearances, but they might be ashamed to buy cheap food.”
Coop’s main competitor, Ica, has no similar plans to sell ugly food or open discount stores at present.
“We donate old food to the City Mission,” said Ica press officer Ola Fernvall.
“And as for ugly fruit and vegetables the volumes are too small. In any case, these are still wanted by the food processing industry and restaurants,” she said.
While Sweden remains one of the most equal countries in the world, it has experienced a rapid surge of income inequality since the 1990s.
According to the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), the average income of the top 10 percent of earners in the Nordic nation was 6.3 times higher than that of the bottom 10 percent in 2012. This was up from a ratio of around 5.75 to 1 in the 2007 and a ratio of around 4 to 1 during much of the 1990s.