Less than perfect product for a zero-waste future
In a step to reduce food waste, Walmart announced it would start selling “ugly” apples. These weather-blemished apples from Washington state brand “I’m Perfect” will be sold at a discount in 300 Walmart stores in Florida, starting this week. But Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign activist Jordan Figueiredo, who hand-delivered the Change.org petition that called for the world’s biggest grocery retailer to sell “less than perfect” produce to its corporate headquarters, says the initiative is too narrow to make a meaningful difference on the issue, and will be keeping the petition online as a result.
“They could make a huge impact if they were really working on this,” Figueiredo told me in an interview.
In a company blog post Tuesday, Walmart’s senior vice president for global food sourcing Sean Baldwin called the initiative part of a years-long effort to “create a zero waste future, especially where fresh produce is concerned” and linked it to its decision in April to sell weather-blemished potatoes from Spuglies in Texas and “wonky” produce boxes in the United Kingdom. Baldwin said the ugly apples will be sold in five-pound bags and will eventually be available in 12 varieties, including Granny Smith and Red Delicious.
It’s a move in the right direction, Figueiredo said, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough to stop half of all produce grown in the United States from being thrown away, as weather blemishes are just one of many reasons some produce doesn’t make it to store shelves. He pointed out that large quantities of produce can still be rejected year-round for being oddly shaped, or not having the right color, or being too big or too small, and Fugueiredo wants Walmart to find a way to remedy that on a national scale. Walmart did not return a request for comment.
“Even if they committed to these two suppliers, it would still be falling short of what we asked for in the petition,” he said.
American Wasteland writer Jonathan Bloom also isn’t “blown out of the water” by Walmart’s announcement, but he said he’s optimistic that it’s a sign of a “much larger investment” to come in cosmetically imperfect produce.
“I think retailers move at different speeds and if they want to try it out and see how it goes I’m fine with that,” he said.
Walmart isn’t the first supermarket to expand its produce offerings. Following another Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign petition, Whole Foods started selling misfit produce at a few Northern California stores in April, and Giant Eagle grocery stores introduced a similar program in Pittsburgh in March. Several European chains were already on board a few years ago.
“The evidence from other programs is that people buy more produce overall when these programs are offered. It’s not just sustainability here, it can also raise store sales,” Figueiredo said.
More stores should follow suit and in bigger ways, Bloom said, but they’re only going to do so if shoppers express their support with their wallets.
“For so long, the argument has been that it would be great if retailers would sell some of these imperfect fruits and vegetables and give shoppers a chance to buy them. Now it’s time for shoppers to put their money where their mouth is and actually purchase these items. Hopefully, given the recent attention on wasted food, people will do just that,” Bloom said.