A CHANGE in the rules allowing 'ugly' fruit and vegetables on to British supermarket shelves has provided a boost for growers in a difficult year.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 tonnes of British produce – enough to fill 2,500 Boeing 747-400 freight planes – have been sold to supermarkets this year. An estimated additional 15% of crops were accepted by retailers in 2012, compared to a ‘normal’ growing season.
The multiples relaxed their rules on appearance because of the weather conditions which resulted in a problematic growing season. Major supermarkets this year have accepted imperfect, weather-marked produce, including potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, swedes and apples, rather than rejecting them on the grounds of appearance.
Waitrose made an early move to accept shorter carrots, thinner parsnips and smaller strawberries, while Morrisons took smaller than usual versions of broccoli, leeks, sprouts, swedes, apples and pears into its value ranges.
And Sainsbury’s committed to taking all fruit and veg that meets regulations and stands up on taste, also incorporating them into products such as ready-prepared salads, mash in ready meals and fillings in bakery products.
Earlier in the year, the NFU called on retailers to adopt a more realistic approach to sourcing ‘out of spec’ fruit and vegetables in its Catalyst for Change.
It has been attempting to reduce imports and present thousands of tonnes of UK-produced fruit and veg being wasted each year.
NFU chief horticulture and potatoes adviser Hayley Campbell-Gibbons said: “In accepting to buy weather-blemished and wonky produce this season, shoppers are sending a very clear message that they are happy to eat food that may not pass a beauty contest, but still tastes great.
“Nobody wants consumers to compromise on quality, but just because a carrot is bent, or the skin of an apple is marked, it’s perfectly useable, can offer great value and most importantly reduces wastage in the food chain. Let’s hope that retailers carry on with this sensible approach to sourcing so that more of the food we produce in Britain can actually make it on to the shelf.”
Walter Simon, a Pembrokeshire potato grower and member of the NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board, said: “I am delighted that retailers have responded to an exceptional growing year by relaxing their specifications on potatoes and, importantly, telling consumers about the reasons for any slight changes they may notice in the potatoes they buy.”
Apple grower Ali Capper, from Worcestershire, said she had benefited from changes in specifications.
“It’s reassuring that retailers have recognised what a challenging year it has been for growing tree fruit throughout Europe,” she said.
“Supply is very short so a sensible approach to specifications that allows more perfectly edible fruit through supermarket doors is welcomed.”