/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Would you buy ‘wonky’ supermarket fruit ‘n’ veg?

Four big UK supermarkets have pledged to relax rules on misshapen fruit and vegetables, after demands from farmers suffering from bad weather. Should supermarkets stick to stocking ‘wonky’ fruit ‘n’ veg?

In a Conversation last year, Hannah Jolliffe brought up the issue of supermarkets refusing to stock fruit and vegetables that are misshapen or blemished. She even launched a ‘wonky challenge‘ to get you to buy into misshapen produce.

It’s something I feel strongly about, so I was interested to see the issue reappear this year. It seems Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Waitrose have been persuaded by the National Farmers Union to relax their strict cosmetic standards on fruit and veg, because the dull, wet summer has made growing produce so difficult for farmers.

Waste not, want not

Feeding the 5,000, an organisation which campaigns against food waste, says that:

‘An estimated 20 to 40% of UK fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops – mostly because they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards.’

The original ban on ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables was introduced by the EU, but it was lifted for most misshapen produce in 2009 after an outcry about the amount of food being wasted.

Since that date any squeamishness about less-than-perfect produce has been enforced by the supermarkets. However, supermarkets argue that they can’t sell such ‘wonky’ fruit and veg to shoppers because they’re suspicious that they’re getting sub-standard food. And there may well be some truth in this…

Mother knows best

Like most children I’m sure, I was reminded regularly when I was little that there were others starving in the world, so I shouldn’t turn up my nose to the food on my plate! But aren’t we all doing that if we refuse to buy produce just because it isn’t perfectly shaped?

It seems silly enough to me that people are so often judged on how they look, without extending that silliness to fruit ‘n’ veg that we’re going to chop, slice, roast, boil or puree into something unrecognisable anyway.

Also, as someone who grows some very irregular fruit and vegetables on an allotment, I can guarantee that shape, good or bad, has no bearing on flavour. And freshness, which is important, can’t possibly be assessed by appearance alone, whatever we might like to believe.

I’ll be on the look-out for the imperfect fruit ‘n’ veg that will keep my family fed and help to keep our farmers in business when I’m next in the supermarket, but what about you?

Do you trawl through the boxes trying to find the most handsome baking potato? Do you refuse to buy a carrot with an extra leg, or an apple with a bump? Or are there more of us who really don’t mind knobbly parsnips than the supermarkets realise?

I think it would be good to support the farmers, reduce waste, and persuade the supermarkets that, even when the weather is good, deformed veg isn’t the end of the world.

Would you buy misshapen/blemished fruit 'n' veg from supermarkets?

Yes - how fruit 'n' veg looks has no bearing on taste (65%, 162 Votes)

Maybe - only if there was a discount on such fruit 'n' veg (27%, 67 Votes)

No - I like my fruit 'n' veg to look close to perfect (9%, 23 Votes)

Total Voters: 256

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Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Few people are likely to buy wonky fruit ‘n’ veg by preference. In a supermarket, the wonky items are likely to be handled and rejected many times. If separated and sold at a lower price, it could be a success.

Wonky items can be used for processed food, and no-one will be any the wiser. I would not be surprised if mashed potato and strawberry jam, for example, are already make from cosmetic rejects.

Profile photo of mose
Member

Wavechange, they do this in Morrison’s, to the ones I’ve been to anyway. They are bagged up and sold on a sorry looking shelf in the dark corner of the veg area. The price isn’t give-away buy its quite a bit cheaper than the norm. Usually it’s for smaller than normal or blemished items.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Thanks, mose. Unfortunately, the only supermarket nearby is Tesco, which does not do this. 🙁

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

There should be a reduction in price
to reflect this fact.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

So, if there was a discount, you’d buy wonky veg over perfectly shaped veg?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I would. I have eaten plenty, grown by my father and friends.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

I’ve just added a poll to reflect this. Thanks

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

If I was a perfect specimen myself I would never buy odd shaped fruit and veg – it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I wish the supermarkets would include some more interesting examples in their boring heaps of uniform produce. We support the farmers’ market and often choose the more unusual shapes. I also quite like the look of oversized and eccentric eggs; I appreciate the effort that has gone into laying them.

Profile photo of Amy Hupe
Member

I vaguely remember Sainsbury’s doing a promotion on their basics range along the lines of ‘These potatoes arern’t pretty, but still delicious in your mash…’ etc. I think supermarkets should be doing more to promote wonky fruit and veg particularly in their value ranges because they don’t make a blind bit of difference to the taste and tend to save you a bit of money as well.

Whenever I take my little nieces and nephews shopping with me they love finding funny shaped fruit and vegetables, kids don’t mind in the slightest and actually it’s a pretty good way of getting them interested! Remember choclate ‘mishapes’? – What a hit they were!

I do agree that customers shouldn’t be expected to pay a higher price for these products but I think plenty of people would buy them to reduce the price of their shopping bill, myself included.

I also very much concur with wavechange about using these products in processed foods. If those foods are not being made exclusively from ‘cosmetic rejects’ already then I think that’s a pretty obvious solution for reducing the waste.

Profile photo of skeptictank
Member

I have no problem with odd shape fruit & veg and often buy it at farmers markets.

I think that supermarkets are over-dominant in the supply chain. wavechange is quite right that odd shaped produce can or should be used in the processed food but farmers are often exclusively contracted to the supermarkets and don’t have an alternative market for the rejected produce.

Profile photo of Janice Shipp
Member

That does seem to be part of the problem. Growers grow for specific markets and produce needs to meet technical specifications on size shape and skin set by the retailers. Some growers find different markets for different grades of vegetable, so top grade go to supermarkets grade two might go into value packs and grade three for processing, but this only works for some crops and others are completely wasted if they’re slightly discoloured, for instance.

Profile photo of m.
Member

Amazing, I have never given a thought to the shape of fruit & veg, other than when the EU tried to ban curved bananas, and that just made me laugh in despair at the arrogance of those who decide that ‘nature is not good enough’.
I see this as an indication of just how spoilt we have become, and removed from reality. There seems to be a sea change coming in our food supply and thankfully this nonsense about ‘ugly food’ will disappear.

Anyone remember tthis a few decades ago: An American went into an English supermarket looked at the loose potatoes and loudly complained that ‘I cant buy these they are dirty’. This made the 6 o clock news, and how we all laughed at these ‘idiot Americans’, complaining about something dug out of the ground having soil on it.
Look at us now!

Member
Paula says:
30 August 2012

I voted “maybe” only because wonky/blemished veg sometimes mean more waste – if the nature of the wonkiness/blemish didn’t affect how much of it had to be thrown away, I wouldn’t care.

Profile photo of Janice Shipp
Member

That’s a good point and pricing does seem to be important to most people when it comes to buying wonky or blemished fruit n veg. I wonder how many people realise, though, that if they buy ‘value’ packs of veg they are just the second grade, grown in the same way and same place and at the same time as the more expensive ‘perfect’ produce. Do we tend to equate ‘more expensive’ with ‘better’?

Profile photo of DorsetMike
Member

The amount of discount is important, it needs to be enough. I grow apples in the garden; And although I happily slice up apples with skin blemishes for home consumption, I select perfect specimens for picnics and visitors.
I also notice that the blemished apples don’t keep as well.

Member
Caroline says:
6 September 2012

I’ve just come back from working in Uganda – seeing the malnutrition there, I can’t handle the wastage of perfectly good, nutritious vegetables here.

Member

I have no problem with wonky veg. It all tastes the same. Think the fuss about perfectly shaped fruit and veg not being fit to sell is outrageous.

Profile photo of mose
Member

wonky food no way! We want chopped and shaped, homogenised, sugar free, baked not fried everything.

A good few years ago I used to buy ‘crooks’ on green lanes in London – Greek area. These were bent cucumbers deemed too bent for the EEC to class them as Cucumbers. They were sold on weight and much cheaper than normal. Being smaller they also had a more concentrated cucumbery taste.

I now grow a lot of veg (courgette and squash glut this year or what! :-() and being closer to the process of growing you really appreciate where the food comes from, bent or not. Some of my chillis are all over the place shape wise. I would love to visit my supermarket – to the meat counter and be able to buy all parts of the animal, to the fish counter and be able to buy all the different fish that are caught (and then thrown away) and go to the veg section and pick out ungraded produce. It aint going to happen though is it.

Member

Any waste of good food is criminal. It doesn’t matter what shape it is and if we want to support our farmers, then bring on the funny veg.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Up to two-fifths of a crop of fruit or vegetables can be wasted because it is “ugly”, a new report on food waste has shown: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/19/fruit-vegetables-wasted-ugly-report Have you taken up ugly fruit n veg?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I have little respect for marketing but perhaps they can convince us to buy fruit and veg that would otherwise be wasted. At Tesco I found bags of ‘Perfectly Imperfect Apples’, grown in the UK. They are smaller than most apples but not obviously imperfect. At 60p for 800g, the price seems very reasonable.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

We bought some “Perfectly Imperfect” English strawberries in Tesco and they were nicer than the foreign ones on sale in the winter months. Probably not quite up to the highest standard but very tasty and good value and there was no waste. So it can be done.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

The fruit and veg I grow are usually wonky, but tastes better than the shop “perfects”. Why are we so obsessed with appearance when it usually gets chopped, sliced, mashed and then chewed? When will we be getting straight bananas?

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I do notice people rootling through the vegetable stacks looking for “perfect specimens” and I presume the supermarkets had a big problem with left-overs so introduced pre-selection by the grower, but this has just transferred the waste problem and probably impoverished the farmer. Supermarkets try to mimic the street market atmosphere but haven’t outwitted the barrow boys. You had to put up with what you were given at the market stall and shrewd traders, with impressive prestidigitation – “the quickness of the hand deceives the eye” – would include a couple of misshapes with some good lookers in every purchase so they were left with little waste at the end of the day. I think carrots, parsnips and similar root veg only go wonky because they hit a stone as they grow down in the soil – hardly a defect and can certainly break the ice at parties.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

It seems that the ‘perfectly imperfect’ products are part of a trial by Tesco: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/11/tesco-launch-wonky-veg-range-food-waste-fruit-vegetables

Parsnips with three legs for the less than the price of parsnips with one.