If the produce offerings at your local Whole Foods Market start to look a little less than gorgeous, it’s probably not because a rush of customers picked over all the good stuff just before you arrived. The chain is going to begin deliberately selling “ugly” fruits and vegetables in a partnership with Imperfect Produce, in a joint effort to reduce the nation's massive food waste problem.
The test partnership will place Imperfect’s fruits and vegetables in select Northern California Whole Foods Market locations next month. The move was reportedly spurred on by a Change.org petition urging Whole Foods to embrace fruits and vegetables that would otherwise not make it to stores.
A campaign in France in 2014 brought imperfect produce to the popular Intermarche supermarket where they were sold at discounted prices. Consumers ate it up, literally. And Imperfect is confident U.S. shoppers will also embrace lower-priced fruits and vegetables that don’t look as perfect as their counterparts, but have the same nutritional value and taste profile.
"We can't think of a better partner to launch this with," Ben Simon of Imperfect told NPR. "The ugly produce trend has taken off across the world, and our fingers are crossed that U.S. consumers will be just as excited," says Simon.
Often, rejected fruits and vegetables wind up in landfills--compost piles if they’re lucky. According to NPR, we make enough food waste each year in the U.S. to fill 44 skyscrapers with otherwise edible food. Some estimates suggest a whopping one-third of the planet's edible food winds up uneaten in landfills while we still have major starvation and hunger problems, even here in the U.S. Among the biggest hurdles is transportation--getting edible food to hungry people isn't as simple as it may seem. And while selling imperfect produce at stores like Whole Foods Market won't fix that issue, it does help to bring awareness to the issue of global food waste and the importance of keeping edible food out of landfills and directed toward food banks, shelters, and relief efforts.
Whole Foods Market already has its own in-store composting program, and it uses “less cosmetically appealing” fruits and vegetables in its prepared foods department, reports NPR. “But this ‘potential partnership’ with Imperfect represents a new commitment.” A spokesperson for Whole Foods told NPR, "We continue to explore new ways to move toward zero waste."
Giant Eagle, a Pennsylvania-based supermarket chain with more than 420 locations has also announced plans to sell “ugly” fruits and vegetables at discounted prices under the “Produce with Personality” label.
"Cosmetic imperfections allow us to offer these items to customers at very attractive prices," Giant Eagle spokesperson Daniel Donovan told NPR. For a 4-pound bag of “ugly” oranges, customers would pay $2.99 compared to $4.99 for the same amount of “perfect” oranges.
In Denmark, a supermarket is focused on only selling expired or damaged products that are still safe to eat--another effort to keep food out of landfills and bring awareness to the world's food waste problem.
Whole Foods has yet to announce if it plans to incorporate Imperfect Produce offerings into its forthcoming lower-priced spinoff chain of stores called 365 by Whole Foods Market. The first one is set to open in Los Angeles later this year.
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