Quebec will now officially allow so-called ugly fruit and vegetables to be sold in grocery stores in an aim to reduce food waste.
The province’s Regulation respecting fresh fruits and vegetables previously barred stores from selling produce with abnormal physical characteristics. However, Minister of Agriculture Pierre Paradis says the regulation was outdated and will be repealed.
In fact, grocers in the province have already begun pilot projects and other programs to sell misshapen produce in the last few years.
Paradis says the regulation’s only goal was to standardize the appearance of produce but was no longer relevant and needed to evolve to meet customer expectations.
“Everyone’s a winner,” Paradis said in a statement. “Businesses can diversify what they offer and farms will have the chance to sell a larger portion of their harvest. Consumers will have a bigger choice, and be able to buy healthy products at better prices that meet health standards.”
He cited a 2010 study by the Value Chain Management Centre that found an estimated 10% of produce is discarded in the field for being ugly and not meeting commercial demands. In addition, some fruit and vegetables that don’t meet commercial standards are sent to food processors.
The change is part of the ministry’s 2015-2020 sustainable development plan to reduce food waste.
Among other things, the current regulation notes “fruits and vegetables must be wholesome, clean, and in perfect condition” as well as “be free from physical, chemical, and biological abnormalities, and from abnormal flavours, aromas or appearance.”
Operating under the principle it’s taste and not appearance that counts, Loblaws’ Maxi and Maxi & Cie banners in Quebec have been selling misshapen apples, potatoes, peppers and mushrooms for the last year priced 30% less than their better-looking counterparts. Other produce may be added to the program, which aims to reduce food waste.
Last summer, Sobeys Quebec ran a six-week program in its IGA stores in the province in which it sold ugly produce priced 30% less on average than standard produce but with the same taste and nutritional value.
Consumers bought 3.6 tonnes of six varieties of imperfect cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, beets, peppers and apples. Sobeys Quebec has promised the program, part of its Joy of Eating Better program, will return.
While generally supportive of the repeal of the regulation, Quebec’s produce growers association expressed concern that if ugly produce becomes too popular, demand might outstrip supply.
André Plante, general manager of the Association des producteurs maraîchers du Québec also told Radio-Canada that if grocers sell ugly produce at prices more than 30% less than their standard counterparts, it could cut into sales of regular-priced fare. Some grocers sell ugly produce at prices as much as 50% lower than standard produce, he says.