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Ugly produce

If you want to save money on groceries and don’t mind if the packages are banged up, dented or slightly defective, you can travel off the beaten path to scratch-and-dent stores and save a bundle. But if you want to save money on fresh food that’s a little less than perfect, you don’t have to travel far – all you have to do is head to Walmart.

The “ugly produce” movement may be about to go mainstream, with Walmart announcing that it’s getting on board with the idea. “After months of discussion,” the company said this week, a brand of apples from Washington state with weather-damaged peels will hit the shelves in about 300 Walmart locations in Florida. “While the texture and flavor remain perfect, the exterior damage usually renders these fruits unsellable in the fresh market because they fail to meet traditional grade standards,” Walmart said. “We’re proud to be the first retailer to bring these apples to you.”

The announcement follows a quieter “ugly produce” experiment in Texas this spring, in which Walmart sold “Spuglies”, Russet potatoes that were a bit bruised and beaten up. “Working with our supplier, we found a way to offer these at a value price,” Walmart said.

Walmart’s efforts this week to highlight its newfound commitment to less-than-perfect produce appears to be something of a pre-emptive move against petitioners who have been pressing the retailer to do just that. Coincidentally (or not), Walmart’s move came as anti-food waste activists showed up at the company’s headquarters on Wednesday. They presented Walmart representatives with a petition signed by more than 140,000 people, calling on the retailer to stop letting perfectly edible fruits and vegetables go to waste, and causing food-insecure shoppers to do without, by agreeing to sell imperfect produce at a discount price.

Walmart’s response? They’re already doing that – see the potato and apple examples above.

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The ugly produce movement first gained steam in Europe a couple of years ago, with grocery stores in France, Austria, Britain and other countries marketing aesthetically-challenged produce. And not just produce with slight blemishes, but everything from severely-misshapen veggies to freakishly-large fruit.

The idea slowly began taking hold in the U.S. last year, with the California grocer Raley’s becoming the first major American chain to offer imperfect produce for sale, for at least 25% less than the price of its “perfect produce”. “Up to 30% of produce grown in the United States is discarded,” Raley’s explained, “often as a result of arbitrary aesthetic standards that do not affect the flavor or nutritional value of the produce.”

But Walmart isn’t so sure that selling imperfect produce has a real impact on reducing food waste. “These items usually make up a very small part of a harvest and aren’t a major contributor to food waste,” Walmart said in discussing its tests so far. Plenty of ugly produce is already repurposed, Walmart argues, as ingredients in other foods or as animal feed. And even a lot of “perfect” produce is never sold and ends up getting thrown out – whether it’s offered alongside ugly produce or not.

“However,” Walmart acknowledged, “we know every bit counts.”

Hence its effort to dip a toe into this latest food trend, by offering a choice in a few hundred of the thousands of Walmart stores across the country. The ugly offerings may not be plentiful enough to help you save a bundle on your grocery bill just yet. But if you don’t mind apples gone awry and patchy potatoes, at a price that’s as appealing as the produce is not – it’s a start.

Image source: Walmart

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One Comment

  1. Our hometown market as a box of produce they offer for cheap. It’s a great place for me to get semi-rotted apples for super cheap. Plus, those buggers make fantastic applesauce.

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