Canadian grocer Sobey's should commit to selling ugly produce, once and for all

misfit strawberries
© Ugly Fruit & Veg campaign

It makes no sense NOT to sell imperfect fruits and veggies at reduced prices. So what's Sobey's waiting for?

In Canada, twenty percent of fruits and vegetables is thrown away before reaching store shelves. Standard practice dictates that if a piece of fresh produce fails to reach a certain aesthetic standard, it cannot be sold. This is an abhorrent waste of perfectly nutritious food that costs Canada close to $100 billion a year, and it's something that Jordan Figueiredo, founder of the Ugly Fruit & Veg campaign, is fighting to end.

Figueiredo has been an influential voice in getting many American grocery stores, including Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, to adopt permanent ugly-produce policies. Now he has launched a petition asking Sobey’s to do the same. As the second-largest grocery chain in Canada, Sobey’s could become a real leader in the fight against profligate food waste, if it would only change its policy.

What Canadian grocers really see© Ugly Fruit & Veg campaign

What’s particularly frustrating is that, back in 2015, when the conversation around ugly fruits and veggies started heating up (and we seemed to be writing about it every week on TreeHugger), Sobey’s was an enthusiastic participant. It started several pilot projects called Misfits and Drôles, but then terminated them, even while rival chain Loblaw’s implemented a permanent program called 'Naturally Imperfect' that has gone on to have great success.

Not selling ugly produce makes no sense at all. It cannot be argued from an economic, social, environmental, or ethical perspective. A grocer need only reduce the price and make it available to customers, while being spared the hassle of disposal and making a small profit. Figueiredo points out the financial benefits:

“Studies confirm that the ‘uglies’ are equally as nutritious as any produce you get in the store, and, in fact, smaller produce can actually have more taste and nutrition! Wouldn’t you buy ‘ugly’ but perfectly delicious and nutritious produce for 30 to 50 percent off if you had the chance? High produce prices have been very significant in Canada in recent years and paying for food was recently found to be a concern for one-quarter of the country.”

In a world that faces growing food insecurity, the best and most efficient response is to worry less about production and more about addressing the gaps in our current distribution system – primarily, why an estimated 40 percent of all calories produced for human consumption fails to reach mouths and bellies. Recalibrating our perception of what is acceptable to eat must start with grocery stores, which have tremendous influence over what ends up on our dinner tables.

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