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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

FOOD WASTE: the disquieting effects of the supermarkets' contracts with farmers

Yesterday I listened to Farming Today with mounting alarm even some incredulity. Anyone who is interested in a sustainable planet and who missed this important edition ought to listen to it on the BBC’s iPlayer.

I was first alerted to the scale of the waste some months ago by a truck-driver friend who drives in Yorkshire. Last night he phoned from his cab in Scotland to report about his back-load of pallets of apples that had been rejected by a supermarket.

There is huge waste of perfectly good fruit and vegetables. There is nothing wrong with them, but they are the wrong size, shape or colour. This is defined by the supermarkets in their contracts with farmers.

This is bad enough, but it gets worse.

Farmers, in order to make sure they meet their contractual obligations, can over-plant by 25% knowing that a significant proportion of their produce will be rejected. Surely the food that is the wrong shape and size can still find a market, amongst those less fussy and/or poorer?

The supermarkets require that any food produced under contract for them and rejected by them is not re-sold. Much of it ends up ploughed back into the soil.

Every year 6.7 million tonnes of food are thrown away. That's about £10,000,000,000-worth according to the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn.

In my opinion, in a world of limited resources, financially challenged inhabitants and some going hungry, it is the supermarket contracts with the growers that are the wrong size and shape.

Supermarkets are leading consumers to believe that nature grows more consistently than it really does. Should we expect this?

Link to the Farming Today story. [begins at the 2:00 minute mark]

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Tags for Forum Posts: Food, contracts, farmers, fruit, supermarket, vegetables, waste

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Here, here Clive. Unfortunately I don't think we can expect much from the supermarkets or our politicians on this one - the best thing to do might be to vote with our feet and shop elsewhere..?
So long as we, the consumers demand uniformity/colour/shade of fruit/veg etc this practice will continue.
How many times have i put an odd (normal) shaped/coloured item back and chosen one that's 'perfect' ?
Perhaps if we weren't so fussy things could change.
Lets all from now on buy only 'odd' shaped/coloured fruit/veg from the shops.
Anyone willing to join me ?
An interesting suggestion James.

The parallel is dented cans. On a shelf containing undented and dented cans, consumers will always choose the undented if there is a choice and if they’re all at the same price. For as long as Sainsburys were offering the dented cans separately and at a deep discount, provided there was no rust, I delighted in buying them. Plenty of manufacturers and retailers offer "seconds" at a discount and there is a market for them.

I think that subconsciously, the supermarkets are attempting either to promote or pander to the idea that the products of the soil can be as consistent as canned food and any other manufactured items. The fruit and vegetables that fall outside a narrow range are currently rejected such that in aggregate, it represents massive waste.

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So there we have it.
Nobody else jumped at the chance to do something about this appalling waste.
James, I'm glad you agree about this but with all due respect, a few shoppers buying a few odd-shaped vegetables a few times is hardly going to reverberate in the boardrooms of Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons.

This enforced wastage of edible food is morally criminal and it ought to be legislatively criminal as well.

The pernicious contracts to which that radio programme drew attention – written by the supermarkets from their position of overweening strength – need to be outlawed.

I would suggest lobbying councillors and Members of Parliament.

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Tom, do you think that a sifting process could be done, possibly by the farmers and the produce that didn’t met the contract specification could be sold separately, possibly by the same supermarket, at a discounted price? Might that avoid waste?

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And while we're at it can we outlaw crap furniture and cheap electronics that are designed to fall apart or blow up at will. :)
You say you imagine that this is already happening to a certain extent. The radio programme I drew attention to was only last Saturday the Environment Secretary Hilary Been estimated the current wastage at £10,000,000,000.

As for saving on fertiliser (by plowing back incorrectly sized carrots, potatoes etc), it is fertiliser that is used to help the perfectly edible vegetables to grow in the first place.

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CC
You are right that "a few shoppers buying a few odd shaped vegetables a few times" is hardly going to make a difference.
What i said was that the waste is driven by consumers insisting upon uniformity.
WE are the problem AND also the solution.

Why don't you get this simple fact ?
James, you said:

Lets all from now on buy only 'odd' shaped/coloured fruit/veg from the shops. Anyone willing to join me ?

But you can't choose to do this, because there is no choice. The shops and the supermarkets don't make this choice available. I would be happy to buy odd shapes and sizes, provided they grouped separately and sold at a discount, in the same way I prefer to buying dented cans (with perfectly good contents) at a discount. Surely that's a win all around?

Who is not making the choice available? The retailers.
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CC you have brought this conversation full circle.
FACT: Consumers demand uniformity of produce therefore suppliers supply only uniform produce. Are you pretending not to understand this FACT ?
James, with due respect I'm not convinced your 'consumer demand' is quite as much a fact as you're suggesting. Consumers demand what is offered to them on the shelves in front of them. You discount the influence and all the choices that retailers have already made 'on your behalf', long before you make your selection.

You seem to imply there's no scope for change and innovation.

Henry Ford is best known for saying that his customers can have a car painted any colour so long as its black (because black paint dried quickest on the production line), but he is less well known for saying that if you ask consumers what they want (i.e. equivalent to today's focus groups), they will ask for a faster horse.

In supermarkets, consumers are not being offered two kinds of fruit of vegetables: premium-priced with standard shapes and sizes and discounted produce which has those awful differently sizes and shapes. If that is not a fact, I'd be happy to be proved wrong and in fact, I will move my custom to that retailer. And that's a fact too!
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