Foodservice should tell its own ugly veg story

Never one to pass up a PR opportunity, Tesco chose the second week of Wimbledon to publish a blog from its commercial director Matt Simister on how its range of Perfectly Imperfect strawberries have been “literally flying off the shelves” (now that really would be a story).

The range, launched this season, already accounts for 15% of Tesco’s strawberry sales and due to the relaxation of cosmetic standards means Tesco takes 95% of the strawberry crop from its growers, according to Simister.

The trend for supermarkets selling ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables has gathered pace in recent years with Asda and Waitrose leading the way with their respective wonky veg boxes and A Little Less Than Perfect brand. And while it might stick in the craw of campaigners that the supermarkets are now profiting from selling flawed produce that for years they have rejected at huge financial cost to farmers, it’s hard to argue against the principle of maximising the consumption of available food in light of the frightening statistics around food waste.

Ugly fruit and veg is nothing new for the foodservice sector which has provided a market for lower class produce for years, turning it into soups, curries and other tasty, pre-prepared meals. Yet the supermarkets have stolen a march on their foodservice peers by making a virtue out of their willingness to sell ugly produce and have happily taken the acclaim of the public and the media for doing so.

It begs the question, could foodservice companies be doing more to highlight their role in providing an outlet for produce otherwise destined never to reach a plate?

Naturally, this represents a more complex challenge for contract caterers in particular who are not consumer-facing brands, but surely some eye-catching communications material at the point-of-service would not be beyond the realms of possibility?

Vacherin is an exception with its l‘mperfect range, which champions imperfect produce that has failed retailer cosmetic standards. But other caterers who are able to source ‘ugly’ produce (and finding a regular source of supply is harder than one might expect) are by and large not shouting about the fact.

It’s hard to believe that many clients would be resistant to supporting a cause that emotes such strong feelings among the public. As Simister says: “We have been amazed how in such a short space of time, just how popular the [Perfectly Imperfect] range has been with customers.”

The supermarkets, for so long the villains of the food waste piece, are now masquerading as its heroes. It’s about time the foodservice sector told its side of the story.

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