Supermarket sale of ‘ugly’ fruit will reduce waste

Supermarket chain Waitrose has begun selling 'ugly' fruit at a discount alongside its unblemished, perfectly formed crop in an effort to reduce food waste.

Traditionally the UK’s major supermarket chains have only stocked ‘perfect’ class 1 fruit and vegetables, which means the produce must pass aesthetic as well as quality tests – every tomato must be round, bananas must curve just the right amount and there must be no ugly blemishes that might offend the eye, if not the palate.

Class 2 produce that does not make the grade usually finds its way into the food processing industry but can be simply dumped, even though it is of equal quality in every respect except its appearance.

Waitrose has seen a gap in the market and a range of ‘ugly’ fruit went on sale this Monday, June 19.

“We have pulled this range together as a range aimed at cooks,” Tom Richardson, Waitrose fruit buyer, told edie.

“The main part of the range are traditional cooks’ ingredients such as Bramley apples & rhubarb.

“There will be seasonal additions such as damsons, gooseberries and quince to this.

“We have simply pulled all these ingredients that we have sold for years under a cook’s brand.

“In addition to this, we have added new specialist cooking fruits like Morrello cherries and Mirabelle plums.

“We did however see an opportunity to bring products into the range such as strawberries and tomatoes that are used widely in cooking.

“We then thought that as it doesn’t really matter what these look like as you cook them, we can sell more varied fruit in terms of appearance.

“The customer profile of Waitrose is geared towards foodies and those who enjoy cooking so we hope we are providing them with what they require.”

The produce is also likely to appeal to those whose eye for a bargain is stronger than any aesthetic quibbles about mis-shapen produce, as it will be sold at a discounted price.

The large-scale food industry is notoriously wasteful, sending millions of tonnes of waste to landfill every year.

Its rejection of produce that is oddly shaped, the ‘wrong’ colour or has other skin-deep flaws has long been a bone of contention between farmers and vendors – in some cases growers have had up to half of their crop turned down.

The move by Waitrose will go some way to addressing this waste.

“If we are satisfying a customer need then of course this makes financial sense,” said Mr Richardson.

“It also has benefits in terms of crop utilisation. Growers will benefit as there will be a consistent outlet for this fruit, customers will benefit as we fulfil their requirements.”

17 million tonnes of food waste is ploughed into the UK’s landfills every year, with around 4 million tonnes of that being perfectly good to eat.

While the decision taken by Waitrose will not directly impact on the amount of food dumped by the supermarkets themselves, it will go some way towards providing an outlet for produce which might otherwise never have made it onto the shelves – and thus help it escape landfill.

Sam Bond

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