Walmart has started to see the beauty in ugly produce.
The nation’s largest grocer on Tuesday announced a new initiative to sell “ugly” apples in 300 Florida stores, according to a blog from the company. Beginning in May, the company also started selling misshapen potatoes in and around Texas that would have otherwise been wasted.
These announcements come three weeks after The Huffington Post launched its Reclaim campaign to spotlight the issue of food waste. Part of our effort targeted Walmart in the hopes of getting the chain to stock its shelves with a variety of imperfect fruits and vegetables across its massive network of stores.
Up to 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten, according to a study from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Some of the food is composted or turned into animal feed, but most of it winds up in landfills, according to the organization. A significant contributor to the problem is grocery chains rejecting produce because it does not meet standards for ideal size, shape or appearance, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Walmart’s new moves are its first initiatives to sell produce specifically branded as ugly or imperfect on its packaging in the U.S, Walmart spokesperson John Forrest Ales told HuffPost.
“What’s different now is that we’re having potatoes and apples of this grade on the shelf with the branding,” Ales said. “This is the first time the suppliers have come up with brands that are related to selling ugly produce.”
But activists say the effort represents only a fraction of the total amount of cosmetically imperfect produce rejected by grocery stores.
“While this is another good step, it’s still just a couple items,” food waste activist Jordan Figueiredo told The Huffington Post via email.
What activists are looking for, according to Figueiredo, is a large-scale program selling all types of ‘ugly’ produce ― too small, too large, misshapen, off-color ― derived from the “massive amount of produce” going to waste on farms due to cosmetic standards. They point to what Walmart has done in the U.K., with its Wonky Veg Box, as a good example.
Ales says Walmart has been selling “so-called ugly produce” for years ― putting imperfectly sized avocados and corn, or over-ripe Roma tomatoes, on shelves. He also said a certain amount of sales of over- or under-sized produce is “pretty common across the grocery industry.”
But food activists say they are looking for more radical changes from major grocery chains, such as large-scale programs to sell ugly produce and educate customers.
A recent study from the Guardian paints even starker numbers: half of all produce grown in the U.S. may be discarded because it’s bruised, misshapen, oddly sized or has some other non-threatening deformity.
Walmart’s new initiatives will make some strides against food waste by bringing potatoes that are “less than perfect” to more than 400 stores across Texas and nearby states, and “ugly apples” to around 300 stores in Florida.
Both items will be sold to customers in bundles at a lower price per pound than traditional potatoes or apples would be, according to Ales.
While Walmart’s two new initiatives are a step in the right direction, both activists and consumers say they want to see more.
“If produce fails to make the grade for size, shape, or color, retailers deem it ‘ugly’ and refuse to sell it in their stores,” the petition reads. “Tell [Walmart] to add the ‘uglies’ to their store aisles so you can save money, fight hunger and help the environment all in one.”
Walmart’s stores in the United Kingdom have made more progress than those in the U.S. to sell ugly produce.
Asda, Walmart’s U.K. grocery chain, began selling boxes of “wonky” vegetables earlier this year, for about 30 percent off regular prices. The program proved so successful, the company expanded the offer from 250 to 550 stores in March.
Now activists in the U.S. are hoping Walmart will do the same in the same here, selling ugly vegetables in its more than 5,000 stores nationwide.
“[Walmart’s ugly potatoes and apples] are also weather-blemished,” said Figueiredo, “which is not consistently happening like most ‘ugly’ produce is: Weather blemished is a one-off thing that happens here and there.”
Ales said the ability to sell ugly produce isn’t entirely in Walmart’s hands, as the amount of ugly produce growers have available can be dependent on external factors like the weather.
“There are a number of factors that impact whether a harvest yields so-called ‘ugly’ produce, including Mother Nature,” Ales said. “When this type of produce is available, we look for ways to provide value for our customers and a return for growers.”
But Ales says Walmart has no national plans to sell ugly produce in the U.S:
“We don’t have any current nationwide plans at this time,” Ales told HuffPost. “We do not have specific goals for ugly produce. We’re watching ASDA closely, we brought these two initiatives forward and are continuing to look at new possibilities. There’s always more we can be doing.”
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