We’re all guilty of, at one point, rooting around to the back of the supermarket shelf to search for the best looking piece of fruit. We can’t help shopping with our eyes and, over time, have come to expect perfection. This led to supermarkets continuously striving to meet these demands, placing strict standards on the cosmetic appearance of any fruit and veg they purchased. They reject produce based on reasons that do not really seem justifiable, such as apples that are too red or cauliflowers that are too large for their polystyrene bags.
These strict standards have led to huge amounts of wastage, even though the nutritional value of ‘ugly’ produce is exactly the same as its better looking counterpart. Although it may seem that the consumer is to blame, it can also be argued that we haven’t had much exposure to ugly produce, leading us to believe that any difference in appearance means that the item is defective. Most misshapen fruit and veg that does get purchased by supermarkets are turned into products where you can’t see their whole appearance, such as soups and ready meals.
Supermarkets such as Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have slowly been relaxing their restrictions on different items, but standardised produce still seems to dominate the majority of supermarket shelves. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who previously campaigned to make school lunches healthier, has been on a new mission – encouraging shoppers to buy ugly produce in order to reduce food wastage. He has teamed up with Asda for this campaign, who were promoting a national trial (well 5 stores) where they sold ugly fruits at discounted prices. They branded the items as ‘beautiful on the inside’ and sold them for 30% less than the better looking varieties, hoping that customers will start to learn that the cosmetic appearance doesn’t affect the nutritional value. It lasted a month or so but doesn’t appear to have surfaced again.
Waitrose have also sold ugly produce in the past, most recently being their ‘weather blemished’ apples, which were damaged by hail at the farm in South Africa where they were being grown. They sold them at 50% less than the non-blemished apples, but it meant that the growers didn’t have to suffer a complete loss on their harvest. This came a week after the supermarket announced that they would start stocking mixed packs of tomatoes that had either fallen from the vine or were misshapen.
Sainsbury’s have also previously sold ugly produce, promoting it as a way of showing their commitment to supporting British farmers during seasons of unpredictable weather.
With clever marketing and celebrity endorsements backing it up, the notion of ugly produce seems to be growing into a trend that is spreading around the world, with supermarkets in Canada and France also experimenting with promoting the display of these on their shelves. Supermarkets in France actually completely sold out of their ugly produce just two days after launching their campaign.
With the appearance of produce bearing no difference on the taste or nutritional value, there is no reason to cast away ugly produce in favour of the more conventional looking items. By consciously changing the way we shop for fruit and veg, we can help to support farmers while also helping to reduce the huge amount of food wastage that occurs in the world.