If you have traveled to regions such as the Balkans, India or rural Latin America, the appearance of misshapen fruit and vegetables everywhere would have hardly surprised you; and of course, they are delicious. But shopping trends on both side of the Atlantic have led consumers to believe fruit should be uniform in color and shape.
One reason why food waste in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom hovers around 40 percent is because misshapen or “ugly" fruit is tossed into the refuse bin. Some retailers have tried to stop this trend, but consumer habits and marketing strategies die hard. Now a Canadian grocer, Loblaw, is selling misshapen produce at some of its outlets in Ontario and Quebec.
The company will sell the produce, starting with apples and potatoes, under its generic “no name” moniker.
Like many food companies, Loblaw first tried to deal with misshapen fruit by processing it into juice, sauces or soups. But those tactics can only go so far, and if you've watched any supermarket employee in action at a produce section, those oddly shaped fruits or vegetables often get tossed aside.
Instead of throwing such produce away, Loblaw will sell it at a discount. The company says it will sell the apples and potatoes at a price 30 percent lower than similar fruit without blemishes or odd curves. In a press statement, Ian Gordon, a vice president of Loblaw Companies, said: "We often focus too much on the look of produce rather than the taste. Once you peel or cut an apple you can't tell it once had a blemish or was misshapen.”
More consumer education and genuine efforts will be needed from food retailers if programs like this will scale and become successful. According to a United Kingdom nonprofit, Waste & Resources Action Program (WRAP), food waste is costing countries across the world US$400 billion annually. If this trajectory does not stop, the growing global middle class could cause that figure to increase by another US$200 billion by 2030. Instead of developing new farmland in pristine regions of Africa or South America, or fantasizing about uber cool-looking vertical urban farms in San Francisco or Brooklyn, plenty can be done to stop food waste across the entire supply chain.
Waste diversion programs are a start, but a campaign like Loblaw’s will take some effort. When “ugly fruit” was sold at a French retail chain, Intermarché, the company watched them fly off the shelves — but had to make smoothies and soups with them first to convince customers that they were just as good.
Image credit: Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.