British Supermarket Lidl Commits to Selling Produce Stunted by Drought

It's a small way to help farmers through a very difficult year.

farmer's field during drought in UK

Ben Leach / Getty Images

This summer, farmers in the United Kingdom have faced one of the biggest challenges of the past half-century. Scorching heat and persistent drought have devastated crops, stunting growth and shrinking yields. Hosepipe bans have prevented many from being able to irrigate crops to offset the lack of rain. The result is an estimated 10-50% loss of crops, including potatoes, carrots, onions, sugar beets, hops, apples, and maize. Even milk production has dropped dramatically because cows aren't getting enough food.

In an attempt to mitigate some of the difficulty, British supermarket chain Lidl has announced that it will sell produce in its stores that "may look and feel a bit different to what shoppers are typically used to." Because many of the vegetables have not received sufficient rain, they have grown more slowly, may appear smaller, and could have tougher skins. But that doesn't mean they're not good to eat.

As Ryan McDonnell, CEO of Lidl GB, said in a press release, "Farmers across the country are facing a big challenge this year due to the extreme weather conditions experienced over the summer months. Whilst the crop coming out may look and feel a bit different to what we're all used to, it's still the same great British quality. We therefore want to show support for our suppliers by working with them to find solutions to help."

ugly tomatoes

Irena Sowinska / Getty Images

Lidl rejected the idea of having a separate category for these vegetables, as some supermarkets have done with their "ugly" or "wonky" designations and labels. This, McDonnell suggested, creates a "false market." Instead, the company strives to "work collaboratively with our suppliers to ensure that we are flexible with variations in specifications at different times of the year." This is ultimately more helpful to farmers, supermarket, and shoppers alike.

The Guardian reports that several areas in the UK are still experiencing drought despite heavy rain in the past week. "Drought was officially declared across eight regions of England on Friday 12 August, with a ninth, Yorkshire, added a few days later." There are warnings of potential crop failures coming from the National Drought Group.

Lidl's announcement will likely make many farmers happy, but responsibility also falls on shoppers to select and use these stunted vegetables. After all, a sales strategy only works if people are willing to buy. As we've long said on Treehugger, we need greater willingness in general to buy imperfect produce as a way to combat the unrealistic and wasteful aesthetic standards for fruits and vegetables that are often upheld by grocery stores. Hopefully, Lidl's strategy will influence future produce consumption habits, helping people to realize that vegetables come in many shapes and sizes, and are nutritious and delicious no matter what.