Would you buy an ugly fruit or vegetable?
That’s the million-dollar question after a major French supermarket chain launched a campaign in March to sell “inglorious” fruits and vegetables (“moche” in French) for 30% less than their perfect cousins.
The campaign drew attention to the millions of tons of fresh produce wasted annually in Europe.
André Plante, general manager of the Quebec Produce Growers Association, spent the summer responding to media questions wondering if Quebec growers and retailers might launch a similar campaign.
Plante said 25% to 30% of Quebec crops are turned into compost or left in the field because they don’t meet strict supermarket standards.
“Of course we cannot say no if retailers want to introduce a special section for ugly vegetables,” he said, “but if it becomes as popular as it was in France, our growers may not be able to supply enough produce.”
Intermarché said it sold 1.2 million tons of misshapen fruits and vegetables in the first two days of its French campaign, and overall store traffic increased by 24%.
Plante also worries that if growers couldn’t supply enough No. 2 quality vegetables, the chains “may say to send No. 1 and we’ll pay for No. 2.”
Deciding what’s “moche” could also be a problem, he said.
“If each store has its own specifications for quality No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3, grading the produce would take our growers too much time and effort.”
Enrico Charest, chief fruit buyer for Sobeys Quebec, said management had meetings about the program over the summer, but no decision has been announced.
“If we sell a nice lettuce at 99 cents and a ‘moche’ lettuce for 60 cents, I’m not sure it would work,” said Charest, adding that the chain would have to devise new produce specs, educate customers and “change our mentality.”
Mario Cloutier, marketing director for Laval-based Les Productions Margiric, said as long as the consumer demands perfect fruits and vegetables, he doesn’t see many people choosing “moche” produce for a few cents less.
“We’re already selling our No. 1 produce at the same price we were selling it in the 1970s,” he said, “and the costs of handling, packaging and refrigeration are the same for a No. 1 and a “moche” product.
“In the end, who will pay the bills? I think it’s going to be the growers.”
Bernadette Hamel, vice president of national produce procurement for Laval-based Metro Richelieu Inc., said Metro is already trying to differentiate itself in a very competitive market with fresh, quality produce, both important to its customers.
“Implementing a project such as les produits moches would be challenging,” Hamel said, “and supply could quickly become a problem since these surpluses are random.”
She said Metro is already using unsold produce in its ready-to-eat products, collecting organic materials and working with a pilot project in Montreal to distribute surplus food to food banks and community organizations.
“All these will help us achieve our 2016 target of reducing food waste by 25%,” she said.