Waitrose tackles 'ugly' fruit stigma

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supermarket

Waitrose has become the first British supermarket to accept
imperfect fruit from suppliers, selling items at discounted prices
to persuade shoppers to try them.

For more than 15 years UK supermarkets have rejected fruit and vegetables on aesthetic grounds - if produce is not the perfect shape, size and colour, or does not fit into pre-prepared packaging formats, it will be rejected.

But from yesterday Waitrose broke the mould, selling pre-packed plums, pears and other fruit that are misshapen or the wrong colour at 57 of its 179 stores.

Suppliers will now be able to sell a variety of class two products to the Berkshire-based grocery chain, cutting down on produce wastage while getting a larger return than would otherwise be possible.

The fruit will be marketed for cooking purposes as it does not comply with the supermarket's strict class one code, and consumers will receive a 50 pence to £1 discount per kilo on the items.

"The eating quality is exactly the same as class one, but as they are not class one in appearance we are branding them as part of our range of cooks' ingredients,"​ said a Waitrose spokesperson.

British Independent Fruit Growers' Association (BIFGA) chairman John Breach told FoodandDrinkEurope.com that the move marks a new trend in responsible retailing.

"For years we, and other groups, have been campaigning about this. I gave evidence in 1994 and 1995 to the House of Commons, advising that the supermarket sector needs an independent watchdog to look at this sort of thing,"​ he said.

"I think since then more people have started listening and putting pressure on supermarkets. Just last week Terry Leahy of Tesco said the focus is on local. They are all looking to sell more local produce, but this cannot always be grade one."

Breach said that if supermarkets want to sell more fresh local produce they need to be flexible in the classification model, which is currently more stringent than European Union standards for grade one and two fruit and vegetables.

"If they want more local apples lets say, they need to be prepared to go down a grade and there will be much more availability,"​ said Breach.

The Soil Association, Friends of the Earth and the National Farmers' Union have backed the new Waitrose policy, hoping that it marks a turnaround in current supermarket sourcing practices.

Since 1995 Britain has lost half its orchards, as growers struggle to meet the standards and price demands of retailers. Until now, most class two produce is immediately assigned to the juice trade, where growers pick up as little as £60 per tonne for apples and pears.

Other European countries appear less affected by the fashion for perfect produce. The continued presence of fruit and vegetable market stalls in countries such as France and Italy means consumers within those countries are used to seeing non-perfect, fresh produce.

However in the UK, supermarkets now sell 80 per cent of the fruit and vegetables consumed by the British public compared to the 1970s when wholesale markets, which supplied greengrocers and market stalls, supplied 90 per cent of fresh produce in the UK.

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