How “ugly” fruits and vegetables can solve food waste

The world faces a significant food waste problem, with up to half of all fruits and vegetables lost somewhere along the agricultural food chain. Globally, around 14% of food produced is lost after harvest, before it reaches stores and supermarkets.

Along with food prices (66%), food waste is a concern for 60% of people who took part in a recent survey published by the UK Food Standards Agency.

another investigation suggests that up to 25% of apples, 20% of onions and 13% of potatoes grown in the UK are destroyed because they don’t look right. This means that producers’ efforts to meet buyers’ strict specifications can lead to perfectly edible produce being discarded before it even leaves the farm, simply because of the way it looks.

In addition to the environmental implications of this food waste, UK shoppers are currently facing product shortages in some supermarkets due to shortages of items such as tomatoes, cucumbers and raspberries. Any solution that increases locally grown produce on store shelves can improve the availability of fresh food, particularly in urban areas.

imperfect fruits and vegetables

When imperfect fruits and vegetables don’t make it to supermarket shelves, it may be due to aesthetic standards. Supermarkets and consumers generally prefer fairly standard-sized products that are free of stains, scars, and other blemishes. This means that misshapen, discolored, or even too small or too large fruits and vegetables are rejected before they reach supermarket shelves.

Having two parallel channels to sell agricultural products (the main one and the channel dedicated to “ugly”) would increase competition. This benefits shoppers by lowering prices on common and ugly products, rather than selling the two types of products side by side in a store.

On the other hand, the growing market for ugly fruits and vegetables can be an economic threat to traditional retailers. This encourages new market entrants and can also limit the availability of “regular” products because producers can become less stringent in ensuring products meet traditional aesthetic standards.

But there is a way for brick-and-mortar retailers to add ugly products to their product offerings alongside others without hurting their profits.

Appeal to consumer awareness to reduce food waste

food waste, ugly vegetables, world hunger, producers, consumers, supermarkets, business

By taking advantage of existing consumer awareness of the environmental benefits of ugly foods, they too could compete in this growing segment. Accepting misshapen fruits and vegetables would possibly lead to less food waste and shortages, as UK buyers are experiencing.

Driving demand for imperfect fruits and vegetables across the entire supply chain will require the participation of all actors, from producer to seller. Here are some steps the various parties can take:

1. Educate consumers

Education about the environmental and economic impact of food waste can be done through marketing campaigns, store windows and even social media.

2. Lower aesthetic standards

Supermarkets could revise their aesthetic standards to accept a wider range of products, including imperfect fruits and vegetables. This would help reduce food waste, ensuring more produce can be sold.

3. Direct sales

Farmers and producers could sell non-standard products directly to consumers through farmers’ markets or subscription services. This allows consumers to buy locally grown fresh produce that doesn’t meet standards but is just as beneficial and nutritious.

4. Food donations

Supermarkets and producers could donate products rejected for their appearance to food banks, shelters and other organizations that serve those in need. This would help reduce food waste while also providing healthy food to those who would otherwise not have access to it.

5. Value-added products

Products that do not meet cosmetic standards can also be used to create other products such as soups, sauces and juices. In addition to reducing food waste, this would create new sources of income for producers and retailers.

6. Food composting

Anything that cannot be sold or used must be composted. This would help reduce food waste while creating nutrient-rich soil for future crops.

By implementing these solutions, the supply chain can reduce the amount of unsightly or imperfect fruits and vegetables that go to waste, while providing consumers with healthy and affordable products, even in times of supply chain shortages.


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