Our grandparents’ generation would have found the misshapen fruits and vegetables that were cultivated across their small holdings and allotments perfectly edible and delicious. However, changing attitudes and consumer expectations have driven large-scale retail and agricultural practices towards a preference for “perfect” fruits and vegetables that are symmetrical in colour and shape.
In a world that is coming to terms with the challenges of sustainability and feeding a growing population, how should we respond to the waste generated by our rejection of fresh produce that is less than flawless?
Over the past century, our global food system has shifted from a decentralised agricultural model towards a complex, industrialised process of food production. It has scaled impressively to meet the needs of a growing population and enables many of us to enjoy a rich variety of perfectly formed vegetables and exotic fruits throughout the year.
Advancements in agriculture have enabled growers to not only improve yield, but also to produce fruits and vegetables that are increasingly standardised. Consumers have become accustomed to produce without variation.
Never mind the price - feel the quality
It’s not just the aesthetics that consumers care about. Research suggests that Consumers judge fresh produce based on a range of quality factors. In order of importance, consumers choose fruits and veg based on: freshness, taste, hygiene and finally nutritional value. Price is ranked last as the purchasing drive.
The freshness and aesthetic appeal of fresh produce act as a key indicator of quality for supermarket chains. In a poll, consumers were asked, “Have you ever changed from one supermarket to another because one offers better-tasting and consistent quality of fresh fruits and vegetables?” a resounding 46.8% responded 'yes.’
With so much at stake, the Producer Groups who supply the big supermarket chains find themselves under pressure to provide perfectly formed, yet affordable fresh produce throughout the year. The margins are squeezed as demand for immaculate foods means more of their crops could be rejected at the Packhouse.
The pursuit of perfection in our fresh produce supply chain reinforces standardisation above sustainability and diversity. That can lead to food waste - and for Producer Groups and their suppliers, it can be a real challenge to remain profitable. Similarly, with continuous pressure on food safety and certifications, exporters and traders also take on administrative work to prove compliance and provenance, putting further pressure on business profitability.
The good the bad and the wonky
In response to our increasing pickiness, Entrepreneurs have seized upon an opportunity to remarket and redistribute the “ugly vegetables” that are estimated to account for 40% of total food waste.
As a result, sales of “wonky veg” have risen in recent years as retailers and consumers acknowledge the issue of food waste, generated purely on cosmetic grounds. Morrisons reported that consumers had begun to buy more misshapen food. Tesco and Sainsbury’s both reported they had added greater volumes of imperfect fresh produce to their recipe boxes, juices, smoothies and soups.*
The growing awareness of food waste and transparency also manifests itself in the emergence of alternative food systems such as regional collectives and farmers’ markets which seek to challenge the industrial agricultural model.
With the promise of extra freshness from seasonally specific produce, some consumers have looked to reconnect with the local producers of their food.
In parallel, the sight of supermarket delivery vans has become ubiquitous. Ironically, consumers no longer handpick their fresh fruit and vegetables. Now, the e-retailers suddenly become the arbiters of quality on behalf of the consumer and need a discerning eye during the picking and packing to ensure their products meet their customers’ high expectations. In this new cut throat world of online grocery shopping, maintaining high quality becomes even more important when customers can switch suppliers at the click of a button.
What happens to the waste?
An overwhelming number of reports suggest that an inefficient supply chain and consumer behaviours are responsible for incredible volumes of food waste.
However, according to some industry commentators, the amount of ‘ugly produce’ wasted is not as scandalous as the conventional narrative would have us believe. Instead, much of the produce that doesn’t make it to the supermarket shelf is simply repurposed within the food service industry. It can be canned and frozen – and is still perfectly edible and nutritious when converted in this way. It can be used to feed livestock – or even improve the health of soil.
Are we falling for anxiety marketing which stresses the need to avoid waste by eating ugly vegetables, when in reality the wonky fruit and vegetables are already finding their way into pies, smoothies and cattle feed - where appearances don’t matter?
In fact, consumers are oblivious to the many ways crops are often recycled and ploughed back into the earth to improve soil health or feed animals. In that case the crops are simply sold at a lower price or reused by the farmer. In reality, the effort, cost and resources spent trying to create a perfect product are most definitely wasted when the produce is used in this way. It's an expensive way to feed livestock or introduce nutrients into the soil.
KisanHub’s approach to Quality
Issues of waste aside, one thing is clear: the market for fresh fruit and vegetables is diverse and still rapidly evolving. Therefore, for Producer Groups, monitoring and reporting on the quality of your crops throughout production is vital to understanding the best market fit for any fruit or vegetable in the supply chain.
With so many potential routes to market, it’s best to know as early as possible about grading, physical attributes and chemical analysis so you know where your crops will achieve their optimum price.
KisanHub’s Quality module brings your lab results, tests and observations into one intuitive online
application for web and mobile and they are easy to share with stakeholders or key clients.
Quality shows at a glance, which crops conform to a matrix of acceptance criteria across multiple supermarkets, trading blocs or product lines so it’s easier to find a market for any grade of fresh produce. You can negotiate higher prices with evidence of crop quality at every stage of production.
With greater transparency from lab results and tests you can provide your customers with a complete history of production.
Customisable templates for capturing quality results
Set the thresholds for each market or category you supply
Record chemicals detected and crop attributes
Add photos and attachments to support lab results and observations