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'Insane' amount of fresh produce 'rejected' by Aussie supermarkets

A Melbourne business has lifted the lid on food wastage in Australia thanks to policies of the likes of Coles and Woolworths.

Two men from Melbourne are on a mission to stop food waste in Australia and have revealed the "insane" amount of fresh produce they claim is "rejected" by major supermarkets.

Perfectly fresh fruit and vegetables are being turned away and thrown into landfill, simply because they're out of shape or "too ugly" to be sold by leading retailers.

Up to 50 per cent of "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, Farmers Pick co-founder Josh Ball told Yahoo News Australia.

"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," he said.

Josh Ball from Farmers Picks with crates of rejected cauliflower.
Josh Ball, co-founder of Farmers Picks, came across 1,500 cauliflowers that had been rejected by a supermarket. Source: Farmers Picks/Instagram

'Perfectly edible food' thrown away

Mr Ball and his business partner Josh Brooks-Duncan now work directly with farms across NSW and Victoria by rescuing unwanted produce. They buy direct from the farmer and resell to consumers via their website Farmers Picks for 30 per cent less than supermarket prices.

This week, a video shared by Ball on TikTok shows 2,000 kilos of celeriac that was set to go to waste because it was "too small" to be sold in supermarkets. However, Mr Ball swooped in and bought the lot. "Perfectly good, perfectly fresh but rejected nonetheless," he said in the now-viral video.

Another video shows 1,500 cauliflower returned to Werribee Farm in Victoria because it was said to be "too ugly"."It breaks our heart to hear the supermarkets rejecting perfectly edible food when Aussies are dealing with a cost of living crisis," Ball said.

Consumers shocked by huge amount of fresh food wasted

Social media users were shocked by the larger crates of wasted food. "The waste at these supermarkets is insane," one person said. Another called it "absolute madness".

"What an absolute atrocious waste, given that so many are currently struggling to put food on the table," someone else wrote.

The biggest problem though is citrus fruits including oranges, lemons and limes, Mr Ball told Yahoo. "The specifications of them are really tight and really harsh. If over 5 per cent or 6 per cent of the fruit is covered in a blemish or a mark, it can't be sold," he said — but what the skin looks like is "completely irrelevant".

Food waste in Australia infographic from Robobank
What food waste across Australia looked like in 2021. Source: Robobank

Last year when the country was experiencing produce shortages following a tough growing period due to flooding, Mr Ball said, to his knowledge, the behaviour of larger chains "was unchanged". Addressing this claim, a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia "our produce requirements are adaptable and respond to the quantity and availability of fruit and vegetables in the market, which is affected by seasonality, supply and weather".

"We regularly review our produce requirements to ensure the fruit and vegetables going into our stores meet customer expectations," the spokesperson said.

Josh Ball from Farmers Picks picking up boxes of celeriac.
Josh bought 2,000 celeriacs that were being thrown away for being 'too small'. Source: Farmers Picks/Instagram
Food waste facts Australia.
Facts about food waste in Australia in 2021. Source: Food Bank

How Coles and Woolworths are addressing food waste

Woolworths does have an "Odd Bunch" range available which allows customers to buy produce that might be marked or shaped differently, at a reduced price. Customers can save at least 20 per cent compared to the price of varieties in the mainstream fruit and vegetable range.

Similarly, Coles offers customers a selection of 10 different fruit and vegetables as part of its "I'm Perfect" range, including carrots and onions that are available all year round, as well as seasonal produce such as mangoes. All of which are "slightly flawed in appearance". Harris Farm has been running its Imperfect Picks range since 2014 to minimise waste.

Farmers Pick is urging consumers to reconsider how and where they buy their produce from. "Once people understand that it doesn't taste any different and you can save a few bucks along the way, then it's definitely a step in the right direction to address food waste," Mr Ball said.

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