It’s a given in our industry that we want all of our produce to be eaten. There are few things more maddening to growers than disking under or throwing out perfectly good fruits and vegetables.
We all know the primary reasons for this waste. Sure, the fashionable idea in social media is that ugly produce is the root cause of farm waste. In reality, the far bigger reason is a blockage in the supply chain that prevents excess produce from being purchased and sold to consumers.
Big retail over the past 20 years has relied upon fresh produce as a high-profit sector. Many large national chains have become a completely unresponsive partner to growers.
A predictable casualty of the new direction is the elimination of the produce buyer who walked the fields and orchards every day. The newer generation of buyers sits in centralized offices far removed from the farm and demonstrates little loyalty to growers, only to profit margins.
Growers all know this and yet have little or no leverage to fight back. A great example is that just last week in California there were very few deals on stone fruit in spite of a plethora of supply. Consumers were instead greeted with the same season-long prices that averaged $1.99 per pound.
Many smaller ethnic markets were selling the very same fruit for from 69 to 99 cents per pound. Incredibly, one major California chain was charging $3.89 per pound for peaches, plums and nectarines.
And yet in major cities across Texas where retail is far more competitive, California stone fruit was being offered on promotion for 98 cents per pound. No wonder food waste continues unabated.
How do we change this imbalance? Bring back the deals!
We need a rapid-fire supply chain that is responsive to field conditions to move surplus inventory. We need large national retail partners who will return to the days when loyalty to growers was a foundational building block of our food system. If hot weather or overlapping harvests yield too much broccoli, then put it on special. Today.
Perhaps the strongest argument for reforming our retail supply chain is climate change. It is simply not sustainable to continue wasting 20% of all fresh produce grown.
Cased produce and packaged food dumped in landfills produce methane gas, which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If viewed as a country, this waste is the third largest in the world as a contributor to greenhouse gases behind only the U.S. and China. We need concrete, actionable steps to reverse these trends.
Bring back loyalty to growers by offering weekly prices reflective of field conditions as an actionable step to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a promising future. Be the change. If not now, when?
Ron Clark, co-founder of Imperfect Produce, worked to connect California food banks with large grower-shippers for 14 years.