My local supermarket, the Swiss supermarket chain Coop, has just launched a new brand of food. Food sold under the label Unique does not conform to the very strict beauty standards that supermarkets apply when buying fruit and vegetables from growers. Since this week, Coop customers can buy three-legged carrots, oversized cauliflowers and other freaky-looking food which was until now only accessible to consumers buying straight from the growers (a fantastic option if you live near some).
Until this move, supermarkets like Coop did not sell fresh produce that deviated from the so-called norm. In fact, leading supermarket chains (I happen to know the UK's Tesco was a case in point but I suspect many chains are the same) have blanket agreements with growers that ensure they only buy produce that conforms to specific characteristics. The way it works is that they run the fruit and veg through a so-called beauty standard scanner. Each type of produce is only allowed to deviate up to something like 15% from the species' supposed ideal look. For instance, pink lady apples will need to be 60% pink, 10% yellow and be shaped in a certain way. All pink lady apples that fall outside of that margin are discarded by Tesco (not even returned to the grower as that would be too expensive, as Felicity Lawrence informs us in her brilliant 'Not on the Label' book on everything everybody should know about the food industry). I would pay good money to find out how much perfectly edible, super tasty fresh produce we throw away every day just because, as some might say, it looks funny. Having spent a bit of my childhood in the 1980s in Spain, where vegetables and fruit were left to ripen and were sold in whatever shape mother nature gave them, I have to say that to me, it is the armies of identical (and may I add flavorless) fresh produce in supermarkets today that freak me out.
Considering how many mouths we already have to feed, and given that we throw away half of the food we produce (more on that here https://openminds.swissre.com/stories/137/), I think this move by Coop is just brilliant and I hope many supermarkets will follow suit!
Read a recent NZZ news article (in German) announcing the move: http://www.nzz.ch/aktuell/wirtschaft/wirtschaftsnachrichten/coop-label-obst-gemuese-1.18124884
Category: Food security: Food industry, Food waste
Location: Basel, Switzerland