68 per cent of fruit & veg rejection due to appearance

Good & Fugly released a research piece exploring the good & the ‘fugly’ of farmer & supermarket relationships.

Sydney-based social enterprise Good & Fugly released its ‘The Farm To Supermarket Food Waste Report 2023’, a research piece exploring the good & the ‘fugly’ of farmer & supermarket relationships.

Good & Fugly works closely with Australian farmers to sell excess and cosmetically challenged produce to consumers. It is through this work that co-founder, Richard Tourino, was intrigued to investigate the relationship between Australian farmers and supermarkets, and specifically what impact this relationship has on food waste.

Tourino said, ”The stats around food waste in Australia, and across the globe, are staggering. Globally 1 billion tonnes of food produced for humans is wasted each year. This wastage produces 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 25 per cent of all vegetables produced don’t leave the farm. It’s the food waste lost between farm and supermarket that we wanted to unpack with this report. We’re hoping as the years go on, we see some of the numbers shift as attitudes towards the aesthetics of fruit and vegetables change. But for now, we’ve still got a long way to go.”

The findings of the report – which surveyed both large farmers ($500k+) and smaller farmers (<$500k) – highlights the pressures faced by Australian farmers and the outdated nature of the supermarkets’ screening systems for fruits and vegetables. It also uncovered some insights into farmer profits and wider industry concerns.

Some of the key findings include:

Smaller farmers have been hit hardest in the past year: Compared to a year ago, 42 per cent of small farmers have reported lower profits.

There are a range of concerns worrying farmers: When looking towards the future, farmers are most concerned about rising production costs, labour issues, and weather conditions.

Produce rejection is also a concern to farmers: While a quarter (25 per cent) of small farmers are concerned about produce being rejected by supermarkets, 1 in 3 (32 per cent) larger farmers cite it as a concern, ranking it above cashflow issues and lack of control over pricing.

Perfectly good produce is being rejected by commercial buyers: Majority of respondents (56 per cent) agree that perfectly good produce is rejected due to cosmetic issues and the same number think making better use of imperfect produce is important to improve sustainability in the agricultural sector.

The appearance of fruits and vegetables is a huge part of the food waste issue: “Appearance” is overwhelmingly the reason supermarkets reject fruit & veg followed by size with farmers reporting 68 per cent of fruit and vegetable rejection from commercial buyers was due to appearance.

A large share of crop never leaves the farm because farmers expect it to be rejected: The prospect of rejection by commercial buyers influences on-farm “self-rejection”, 51 per cent of farmers screen out good produce because they don’t think it will be accepted by commercial buyers. 1 in 5 (20 per cent) large farmers are losing more than 30 per cent of what they grow because they expect it to be rejected by supermarkets because of its appearance or size.

Farmers are losing out on profits: 1 in 4 (23 per cent) farmers report supermarkets expect them to hand over imperfect produce for free. This increases to 1 in 3 (32 per cent) for larger farmers. And overall, only 19 per cent of farmers believe they are paid a fair price for their produce b y commercial buyers.

The individual financial loss due to rejected deliveries can be high: 1 in 10 farmers (12 per cent) reported an annual loss of $50,000 or more as a result of rejected produce.

Farmers feel supermarkets are too strict on their screening of fruit and vegetables, with 40 per cent of large farmers reporting that supermarkets will reject a whole pallet over one “bad apple”.
Farmers have a limited range of options for rejected produce: 37 per cent of farmers said the rejected produce can be sold to alternate buyers, but this is often at a discount. 32 per cent of farmers report that rejected produce is repurposed into other products such as marmalade and soaps.

Tourino said, “We can see through these answers that, simply put, there’s a lot of produce that is being rejected by supermarkets purely for the way it looks and its dramatically impacting farmers’ profits. Collectively, if we look at the loss of profits from farmers in the report due to rejected produce and average it out across Australia’s 15,000 farmers, these losses equate to a total of $27.9 million, or roughly 13.95 million kilos of fruit and vegetables, being lost annually in Australia.”

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