Ugly Veg

For every piece of perfect produce that is on display in supermarkets, there are tonnes that are discarded due to cosmetic blemishes. However, there are an increasing number of initiatives happening worldwide in an effort to combat this issue, and ways that people can get involved to save this produce.

Food wastage: The facts

The cosmetic standards set by supermarkets are one of the biggest causes of food wastage. In Australia, approximately 25% of produce is rejected by supermarkets (Wilkinson, 2014; Harris Farm, 2015). Globally, it is estimated that one third of food is wasted (Suriyaarchchi, 2015). The appearance of produce can vary due to the environmental conditions at the time that it was growing, or the way that it sits on the stem, conditions out of the farmers’ control. This food is either dumped, fed to livestock, or given away, with little to no profit made by the farmers (Wilkinson, 2014). Evidently, ugly veg initiatives are imperative to combatting the enormous amounts of food being wasted globally.

The environmental impact of wasted food

The marginalising fruit and vegetable standards are not only detrimental to food wastage, but also have a significant environmental impact. Every discarded fruit or vegetable represents a waste of resources and additional carbon emissions. Wasted food means wasted water, which is a significant issue for Australian farmers who are often ravaged by drought, as well as a waste of soil fertility, labour and chemicals (Wilson, 2014). The food wasted globally each year ads up to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, or roughly 170 trillion litres of water (Suriyaarchchi, 2015). Furthermore, it is estimated that 1.4 billion hectares of land is used for wasted food alone, which is approximately 30% of the global agricultural land area. The technology used throughout the farming process contributes to carbon emissions, but more significant, is the methane emitted as the wasted food decomposes (Wilson, 2014).

“The UNFAO estimates the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten to be 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. That means that if the world’s wasted food became its own disgusting island — it would be the third biggest contributor to climate change globally, topped only by USA and China” (Suriyaarachchi, 2015).

Evidently, food wastage worldwide is a serious problem, and one that is threatening the quality of life on Earth.

Global initiatives

In 2014, a French supermarket introduced the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign, which sold cosmetically imperfect produce at a 30% discount, in designated aisles (Wilson, 2014; Figueiredo, 2015). This campaign was a clear success. The produce sold out and it started a national conversation about food wastage (Wilson, 2014). This initiative increased store traffic by 24%, deeming it to be financially beneficial for farmers and supermarkets alike (Figueiredo, 2015). As part of their marketing campaign, they released a video which went viral, and helped to generate this important conversation.

In such campaigns, the produce that is normally thrown away is celebrated for being unique and having a variety of uses. In Australia, similar campaigns have been undertaken by Woolworths and Harris Farm, following the success of the French campaign, which was later adopted by various supermarkets in the UK. Asda’s research concluded that 65% of customers were willing to buy the imperfect produce, and 75% were likely to buy it if they were sold at a cheaper price to the standard produce (Herkes, 2015).

Australians waste approximately $10 billion worth of food each year, from the produce rejected by supermarkets, to household waste, which is not financially beneficial for anybody (Wilson, 2014). Clearly, due to the success of the European campaigns, people are willing to buy imperfect produce, so why is this option not available in every community?

Helping people in need

Considering that approximately half of the world’s population is malnourished, it is difficult to comprehend that billions of tonnes of produce is discarded each year due to aesthetic reasons (Figueiredo, 2015). Each year, Australia makes enough food to feed roughly 60 million people, however, two million people still rely on food relief (OzHarvest, 2014). The produce sold in the ugly veg initiatives is cheaper than the standard alternative. More initiatives like this in Australia could be beneficial for people who are struggling financially, and those who find buying fresh food at times to be unaffordable. Charitable organisations such as Ozharvest, gather unwanted and leftover food and produce from restaurants, farms and shops, and distribute it to over 500 charities which feed those in need. More low priced, fruit and veg initiatives in Australia could compliment the work of these organisations, making it far more affordable to buy food.

Ugly veg in Western Sydney

The success of the European campaigns and the hype surrounding such initiatives has left many Australian consumers wondering where they can buy such products. With only Woolworths and Harris Farm expressing interest in this field, the chance of somebody finding imperfect produce in their local supermarket is quite small.

Thus far I have found one Woolworths store which stocked the Odd Bunch range, far from my local community, and with some flaws. Out of their limited range, many products were actually more expensive than their aesthetically superior counterparts, and those which were cheaper, were only marginally so. The limited range and inflated prices are not going to invite any consumer to give ugly veg a chance, and are perhaps responsible for the initiative not being rolled out to more stores.

For Australian supermarket chains to benefit consumers, producers, and themselves through these initiatives, they need to lower their prices, providing an incentive. They must also make it easily accessible and well advertised, as I only discovered these campaigns when I actively searched for them. With 2 million residents, or one in 11 Australians (UWS, 2015), Western Sydney holds a lot of potential customers if supermarket chains were to execute the campaign correctly.

Getting involved

In the social media age, people face a lot of pressure in regards to their body and overall appearance, and it seems that this same pressure is paralleled in the food industry. However, through social media, people can partake in abolishing the stigma regarding imperfect produce, generating conversation and making the supermarket chains take notice.

You can jump onto Twitter and show your support by using the #isupportuglyveg hashtag, or sign the online petition below to introduce imperfect produce to more supermarkets in Western Sydney.

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