Starting with hail-damaged apricots, Swiss retailer Coop will in future offer slightly “wonky” but edible produce to customers to combat food waste. The growing worldwide movement is a response to consumer awareness, says one analyst.
According to Nick Nuttall, a spokesperson for the United Nations Environment Programme’s anti-food waste campaign, the UK has taken the global lead in offering such not-quite-perfect produce to customers.
“The UK has been looking at food waste and loss for perhaps a little longer than most countries, and consumers have been made aware of the absurdity that a perfectly nutritious potato or carrot could be discarded because it has some funny bits sticking out of it,” he told swissinfo.ch. “(For example), one supermarket in Britain takes strawberries and markets them as ugly strawberries suitable for jam making.”
Coop, one of Switzerland’s two major grocery store chains, did the same with a batch of apricots from the Valais region that were deemed unusable because of hail damage. After the apricot farmers launched the initiative to have the store sell their imperfect fruit, the supermarket announced it would continue to offer such not-quite-perfect produce on a regular basis under the product label "Ünique".
Coop said in a press release that it had "increasingly found that consumers have more understanding of the nature’s variety and are willing to buy exceptional natural products."
The effort intends to reduce farmer over-production, a side effect of supermarkets’ high standards for produce. The UNEP recently found that one farmer in Kenya was being forced to waste up to 40 tons of produce every week - about 40 per cent of what he grows – because the European supermarkets he was selling to wouldn’t accept oversized mangoes or beans that didn’t fit into cellophane packaging.
Though his organisation generally supports Coop’s move, Josef Christen of the Swiss Produce Association told the Swiss news agency that it’s a question of what came first, the chicken or the egg: were consumers the first to say they didn’t want to eat imperfect produce, or did supermarkets impose that concept on them?
Regardless, Nuttall believes it’s up to both parties to make a change.
“Supermarkets in many parts of Europe and elsewhere have been adopting, apparently on the consumer’s behalf, the rejection of wonky-looking fruits and vegetables,” he says. “Once consumers know this is going on, they can demand the (imperfect produce) and supermarkets will supply it. We need to reform the way the supermarkets think but consumers can go a long way toward accelerating that reform.”