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Supermarkets agree that customers have appetite for wonky veg

Supermarkets agree that customers have appetite for wonky vegA new study has found that 89 per cent of UK supermarket managers think their customers would have no problem buying ‘wonky veg’.

The research was performed by predictive analytics company Blue Yonder, which questioned 152 supermarket managers in the UK, from junior managers to directors, about their opinions on wonky veg.

Following several high-profile food waste campaigns, including Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s TV exposé Hugh’s War on Waste in January, the issue of food waste caused by supermarkets’ overbearing cosmetic standards has become more of a public concern.

These standards see farmers throw away tonnes of fruit and vegetables that are too big, small, straight, misshapen or blemished for their major customers.

The practice of using misshapen fruit and vegetables has become more common in recent years, with UK supermarkets such as Asda and Morrisons introducing ‘wonky’ ranges. Asda’s ‘Beautiful on the Inside’ range was so successful that it extended the range to include more options and more stores and this year introduced wonky veg boxes.

Supermarkets have been quick to report successes of their ranges. Aldi says that its line of wonky veg, introduced in 2014, had reduced the amount of potatoes thrown away by 34,000 tonnes, while Tesco says that by no longer asking green bean producers to ‘top and tail’ their produce to make it look neater it has reduced waste by 135 tonnes a year.

The study also questioned store managers in the US, France and Germany. In the US, 91 per cent of the 300 managers questions agreed that their customers would either ‘possibly’ or ‘definitely’ buy such produce. German food retailers were even more positive with 94 per cent saying the same and every director questioned saying they thought people would buy wonky veg.

Regulations to restrict the sale of oddly shape fruit and vegetables were originally introduced in the EU in the 1980s. These were overturned in 2008 in order to decrease the amount of edible food going to waste.

Since then, produce that had previously been thrown away because of its appearance is now being used and supermarkets in the EU have started to sell ‘ugly’ produce, although there are concerns that some of the produce being marketed as ‘wonky’ is being diverted from other lines and further cutting into farmers margins (see below).

Many UK organisations across the food supply chain have signed up to the Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary agreement that aims to reduce the waste and emissions associated with food and drink production by one fifth by 2025. According to the commitment, which is run by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) on behalf of the government, such waste costs the UK more than £19 billion a year.

'Overcoming the waste problem in the supply chain'

Blue Yonder retail industry director Matt Hopkins said: “In a struggle to remain competitive, grocers find themselves throwing away an increasing quantity of goods on a daily basis. This issue has intensified as customers have become accustomed to having not only a wide variety of choice, but also the freshest selection available. 

“This research reveals 90 per cent of grocery managers feel customers would be happy with discounts on imperfect fruit and vegetables. This has the benefit of overcoming the waste problem in the supply chain, and is clearly of benefit to all.”

Wonky veg a ‘distraction from the truth’

Not everyone is convinced that the increasing practice of introducing wonky veg ranges in supermarkets is producing any benefits for farmers or food waste, though, including farming industry insider Mark Palmer.

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More on wonky vegetables and the food waste innovations being trialled in Swadlincote will be featured in the Summer 2016 Resource
In the Summer 2016 issue of Resource, Palmer claims that much of the wonky veg comes either from the crop that would have been used for lines such as prepared vegetables or from the out grade of the crop, which farmers commonly aren’t paid for. This means that UK farmers aren’t seeing the benefit, and in some instances, waste isn’t even being diverted.

He comments: ‘To try and promote their green values, some retailers have “developed” so-called wonky veg lines, which can be bought at a lower price than main lines. This creates some problems.

‘Now, instead, packers are having more specifications imposed on them, and actually diverting product from mainline packs for use in “wonky” packs. Also, I am hearing tales of retailer rejections because the veg is not “wonky” enough. The whole system is mad!’

Mark Palmer’s comment on why wonky veg is a ‘distraction from the truth’ and an in-depth look at what’s going on in Swadlincote, the UK’s food waste trial town, can be found in the most recent issue of Resource.

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