Grey Skies Cut Grade-outs at Supermarkets

2nd November 2012

The wettest June on record and hailstorms in August may have resulted in UK farmers suffering one of the worst harvests in recent years, but one bit of a silver lining has been a reversal in policy by many of the big supermarkets to stock ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables. A success for our food campaign, ‘taste before beauty’!

It is estimated that 25% of the fresh UK harvest, particularly apples, pears and many root vegetables, has been affected by the bad weather, resulting in retailers struggling to source their regular supply of blemish-free crops and taking the unprecedented step of relaxing their standards.

Initially many supermarkets were planning to source better-looking foodstuffs from overseas, but lobbying from the National Farmers’ Union (and ourselves!) have resulted in misshapen fruit and vegetables hitting our shelves. All the main supermarkets including Waitrose, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda agreed to give wonky vegetables a go.

However, that doesn’t mean that grade-outs are a thing of the past. There is a real risk that this change of heart is temporary and, with an improvement in next year’s growing conditions, supermarkets will revert to their old beauty pageant ways.

So over the next few months the food team at Manchester Friends of the Earth, with its ‘taste before beauty’ campaign, will be increasing pressure on supermarkets to keep up the good work and keep those blemished apples and undersized parsnips in their stores. The campaign will also focus on educating the public on the importance of buying these ugly crops so that retailers will be more likely to change their supply policy in the long term.

Research shows that it is more sustainable to support local independent retailers and local producers. They tend to have a grade-out rate of 5–10% compared to the supermarkets’ 30–50%. However, the reality is that most food purchased in the UK is sold by a few large companies, so it’s important to send a clear message to them.

Ways you can support this campaign

• Shop at local independent grocers where less stringent grading processes will have been used. Ask them what their view is about food that has been graded out and whether they can stock food from local growers that might otherwise be wasted.

• Sign up to a box scheme which supports local growers. The amount of food wasted by small-scale producers working with box schemes is far lower than with highly packaged food in supermarkets. Contact the box scheme and ask them about what producers they work with do with less perfect food. Let them know you’d be happy to have it in your box.

• Buy fresh fruit and vegetables at your local farmers’ market. Direct sales to customers do not require producers to grade out produce. Talk to the producer at the market, ask them about their less perfect food and let them know you’d buy it.

• Keep in touch with Manchester Friends of the Earth. We will be developing this campaign over the coming months and welcome involvement from anyone interested in this work!