Lidl latest supermarket to sell ‘wonky’ veg

Supermarket chain Lidl has started selling ‘wonky veg’ boxes at a discount, helping customers save money and cut waste at the same time.

Part of a new initiative called ‘Too Good to Waste’, each box contains five kilogrammes worth of fresh produce that is either ‘imperfect’ of slightly damaged, and will be sold for £1.50.

The boxes are being trialled in 122 of the the budget supermarket’s more than 700 UK stores, and Lidl has stated that the scheme could avoid 10,000 tonnes of food waste if it was rolled out nationwide – which may be the case should there be enough take-up of the boxes.

Lidl latest supermarket to sell ‘wonky’ veg

According to figures from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), total yearly food waste in the UK reaches around 10 million tonnes, 60 per cent of which could have been avoided. In the retail and wholesale sectors specifically there is estimated to be around £800 million worth of food wasted every year. Some of this waste is related to high cosmetic standards for produce, with retailers rejecting less than perfect looking fruit and veg – although more and more supermarkets are beginning to change their tune in this area.

Aldi, Asda, Tesco and Morrisons all sell ‘wonky’ ranges of fruit and vegetables at bargain prices, with the latter claiming in June that growing sales of the discounted produce have contributed to a 1.9 per cent increase in overall sales in the past three months.

Christian Härtnagel, Lidl UK’s CEO, said: “Food waste is one of the most important topics that our industry is facing, and one that we are fully committed to tackling. This is why, in 2017, we set ourselves the ambitious target of reducing our food waste by 25 per cent across just three years.

“We know from our data that fresh produce is one of the biggest contributors to food waste in stores, so we’re excited by the difference our ‘Too Good to Waste’ initiative will make. Not only will it help customers consider items that they might have previously dismissed, it will also provide an opportunity for them to make further savings.”

Another element of Lidl’s new initiative will see further price reductions added to fresh items coming close to their ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. The practice of putting ‘use by’ dates on labels has been criticised by WRAP, which issued guidance in November 2017 stating that retailers should replace the term with ‘best before’ to avoid the disposal of products that are still edible.

Going further to reduce food waste

In the waste hierarchy for food, the prevention of food waste is right at the top, and selling ‘wonky’ food for cheaper prices is one way to keep produce from going to landfill or into energy recovery – showing consumers that food is still edible even when it does not look perfect. However, food waste charity Feedback has claimed that initiatives like wonky veg boxes can be tokenistic, enabling supermarkets to avoid making changes on a larger scale.

In February, the charity published a report focusing on the ways supermarkets drive food overproduction and waste at the farm level. As well as strict cosmetic specifications for produce, identified by farmers as the main cause of food waste, the charity pointed to a number of common practices by retailers which drive up waste, including last minute order changes and a failure to properly market seasonal produce.

One anonymous strawberry producer stated: “Imagine a supermarket will say it wants 10,000 packets of strawberries. On Monday and Tuesday the food is accepted. On Wednesday the food is rejected. When produce is not selling well – perhaps it’s been raining and nobody is buying strawberries – the supermarket rejects the consignment, but there is no difference in the actual strawberries. Believe me, I have seen it happen time and time again…”

Feedback has called on supermarkets to relax cosmetic specifications across all their lines, not just for specific ‘wonky’ branding. In addition, to minimise supply and demand fluctuations for farmers, supermarkets should guarantee orders and implement whole crop purchasing (buying an entire crop regardless of cosmetic appearance). 

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