Shoppers in Canada will have to look beyond appearance if they want to help reduce food waste — and save some money along the way.
Loblaws, the country’s largest food retailer, launched a campaign last week to sell misshapen, “ugly” produce at a discounted rate in an effort to curb the country’s food waste problem (annually, Canadians waste some 40 percent of their food).
The campaign, called No Name Naturally Imperfect, offers aesthetically displeasing apples and potatoes at a discount of up to 30 cents in select Loblaws-owned stores in Ontario and Quebec. “We often focus too much on the look of produce rather than the taste,” said Ian Gordon, senior vice president, Loblaw Brands, Loblaw Companies Limited, in a press statement. “Once you peel or cut an apple you can’t tell it once had a blemish or was misshapen.”
According to the U.N. Environment Program, between 20 and 40 percent of produce is thrown away by farmers simply because it isn’t pretty enough for grocery store shelves. The produce being sold under Loblaws’ new campaign would have been used for juices or soups, or might not have been harvested at all, due to their appearance. Though the campaign is beginning with apples and potatoes, company officials hope that the program will serve as a springboard for the sale of other ugly fruits and vegetables in the future.
The move offers savings to both the consumer, who can access healthy produce at lower costs, and the Canadian government, which loses some $31 billion dollars annually on food waste. Globally, food waste costs nearly $400 billion annually, but according to a February report released by the U.K.-based Waste & Resources Action Program (WRAP), countries could save between $120 and $300 each year by focusing on reducing food waste.
In developed nations, food waste happens most often at the retail and consumer level. Grocery stores often adhere to strict quality guidelines that place too much emphasis on appearance, leading to the disposal of produce that is nutritionally sound but not aesthetically pleasing. Each year, enough unspoiled food is thrown away in developed nations to feed the world’s 870 million hungry people.
But food waste is more than an economic burden — it’s increasingly becoming an environmental burden as well. Most food waste ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas nearly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the U.S., where nearly 30 percent of food is wasted, organic waste is the second most prevalent element in landfills. Globally, food waste accounts for 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, eclipsed only by the United States and China.
Loblaws isn’t the first retailer to decide that the industry’s insane standards of beauty are a detriment to their bottom line and the environment. In 2014, the E.U. launched the European Year Against Food Waste, prompting French supermarket Intermarché to sell disfigured fruits and vegetables for a lower price than their conformist counterparts. The campaign, titled “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables,” created a 24 percent uptick in store traffic, reaching 21 million customers in its first month alone.
As greenhouse gas emissions increase — driven by food waste and countless other factors — consumers might be forced to be less picky eaters anyway. A new report published by climate scientists at the University of Melbourne warns that the effects of climate change, including shifting rainfall patterns and climate-related diseases, will result in the production of less flavorful, lower-quality food. Apples, for instance, are sensitive to heat, and can be affected by as little as 10 minutes of extreme sunlight. If mealy, sunburned apples don’t sound like an appealing future food, maybe buying a small, knobby apple now isn’t such a bad alternative.