Encourage appetite for 'ugly' produce to reduce food wastage

Shoppers at the vegetables section at Cold Storage supermarket in Great World City. ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

About a third of the fruits and vegetables produced worldwide are never consumed, and I am partly to blame.

It was a habit so inconspicuous and ingrained in me that I never realised it - until I was shown a clip from BBC One's Hugh's War On Waste, in which mountains of carrots were discarded each day for being "ugly" or less than perfect.

While it is a seemingly outrageous act, food producers are inadvertently forced to do this because of consumer demand for aesthetically pleasing food.

An Electrolux survey of 1,000 Singaporeans showed that 83 per cent would only buy fruits and vegetables that looked fresh and good, a sufficient indicator that even local supermarkets are subject to the same pressure to sell only perfect-looking produce.

Last Tuesday's article ("Food waste: E-book's food for thought") reported that 790,000 tonnes of food were wasted last year in Singapore alone.

While there are many causes of food wastage, much of it comes from the rejection of "ugly" but still nutritious and edible produce, solely for their apparent loss of value.

This is something most of us unwittingly contribute to. Given a choice between perfect and less-than-perfect produce priced exactly the same, there would be little reason to choose the latter.

Other countries have had success with reducing this wastage by selling misshapen (but equally edible) fruits and vegetables at a lower price, incentivising customers to purchase such produce.

Intermarche, a French supermarket chain, has had success in marketing so-called "inglorious fruits" by selling them 30 per cent cheaper to curb food wastage and to raise awareness of the matter.

Singapore can afford to do the same, and there is little to lose - the profit per piece of misshapen fruit may be relatively lower, but the alternative - tossing them out - results in a complete loss.

While it is the consumers' preferences that need to be changed, supermarkets need to kick-start this change by encouraging it.

For many, such food wastage is not intentional - bringing the matter to light will encourage many to make the switch willingly, especially if incentivised by a price cut.

The same Electrolux survey showed that a good 65 per cent are willing to purchase such produce at a lower price, which is a good start.

When these fruits and vegetables are turned into dishes, they become indistinguishable from the perfect-looking ones, another reason why aesthetics should matter little.

Ugly produce has the same taste - let's not let them go to waste.

Jonathan Chew Wei En

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline Encourage appetite for 'ugly' produce to reduce food wastage. Subscribe