Coles, Woolworths respond as shocking photo shows dumped Christmas staple

A photo of discarded cherries – worth $3.5 to $4 million if taken to market – has reignited debate about fruit standards in Australia.

Australian farmers are experiencing devastating losses as harsh weather coupled with strict supermarket standards force them to dump huge amounts of one highly sought after Christmas staple this year.

Images of 400,000 kilograms of discarded cherries at a farm in NSW have shown just how disappointing the situation is for some growers this year. Farmers Pick co-founder Josh Ball shared the shocking image "to highlight the tough and uncontrollable conditions" our farmers have to contend with.

"These are compounded by the unrealistic beauty standards that are enforced by the supermarkets," he told Yahoo News Australia.

The actual cost of this damage is extraordinary, with cherries being one of Australia's most expensive fruits. "If the 400,000 kgs could be shipped, it would’ve been worth well over $3.5 to $4m in revenue," he lamented.

Left image is of Josh in his TikTok video talking with images of cherries with split skin in the background. Right image is of the 400,000kgs of dumped cherries in a NSW farm.
One farm in NSW was only able to salvage 40 per cent of their harvest due to damage. Source: TikTok/Supplied

Heavy rain damaged cherry harvest

The roughly 400,000 kilos of cherries in Josh's video are from a farm in Young, NSW. It was only able to salvage 40 per cent of its total harvest due to damage from rain. In comparison, a good season means over 90 per cent of a harvest can typically be sold.

Due to cherries being "so fragile", if rain occurs at the wrong time it can fill them with water and split the skin. "400,000kgs of cherries split, which means the farmer has to dump the stock as they are not suitable for consumption," Josh explains.

Supermarkets 'unrealistic beauty standards' impacting farmers

The weather has also meant there will be more blemishes on cherries this year, meaning even more of the summer fruit will likely be rejected by supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths — something farmers foot the bill for, according to Josh.

"Food waste increases by 30 per cent over the festive period with most cases being perfectly edible. We are working with local farmers across Victoria and New South Wales to salvage as many edible cherries as we can this season," he said.

Despite the external blemishes, the inside tastes just as good as the more expensive, untarnished options on the market, he added.

As a whole, up to 50 per cent of the "perfectly imperfect" produce never leaves the farm on which they're grown because of unrealistic cosmetic standards upheld by the major supermarkets, including Coles and Woolworths.

"Five to fifty per cent of any crop can get rejected because of the way it looks, either because of its size — it's too big or too small — or it has a blemish on it. The standards are primarily set on aesthetics," Josh laments.

Cost to Aussie customers

The cost of damaged or rejected cherries hits the pockets of consumers too. And the expensive cherry is about to cost a lot more this season, with those wasted in the supply chain pushing up costs for consumers as well as farmers.

"At the end of the day, it is not only the farmers that lose, but also the consumers by having to pay more at the checkout," Josh argued.

Coles and Woolies tackle wastage with 'imperfect' ranges

Coles and Woolies have both defended the way they interact with farmers, sharing how they sell “imperfect” produce with “flawed” appearance to tackle wastage. But appearance flaws mainly consist of produce in imperfect sizes.

When it comes to cherries, Coles says it offers a range of different sizes to maximise the use of crops from farmers including a 300gram pre-pack and loose offering.

“A growing number of our customers recognise that great-tasting fruit and vegetables come in all shapes and sizes and are increasingly buying from our I’mPerfect range,” a Coles spokesperson told Yahoo, saying the range had returned some $37 million (by selling roughly 20,000 tonnes of 'imperfect' produce) to the supermarket’s suppliers.

The sad photo of dumped cherries has reignited debate over supermarket practices. Source: Supplied
The sad photo of dumped cherries has reignited debate over supermarket practices. Source: Supplied

Woolworths has its own imperfect range it likes to point to. “This includes selling imperfect fruit through The Odd Bunch, where we offer fruit that might be a little imperfect but still great tasting for at least 20 per cent less than our regular range,” a Woolies spokesperson said.

“This season we're also offering 500g packs of cherries in The Odd Bunch across select stores and last year we sold more than 127 tonnes of The Odd Bunch Cherries.”

Farmers fed-up

Despite the expanded efforts by the supermarket giants, it's certainly not the first time growers have expressed dissatisfaction with the large chains after a raspberry farmer called out supermarkets in September. Known online as 'Mama Viv', she recently spoke about how difficult it can be working with dominant retailers.

In the video, Mama Viv gave a shocking example of a situation where her produce would be rejected by the supermarket.

"We supply 2000 boxes [of raspberries] into a supermarket, the supermarket does their own checks... the supermarket will find one insect... the tiniest insect on the planet. They will find one in one punnet and they will then reject the whole lot," she complained.

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