IFA Horticulture Chairman Gerard Reilly says Tesco's move to purchase and sell irregular shaped vegetables has the potential to cut waste at farm level and to increase the proportion of produce farmers can sell for consumption.
Named "Wonky Veg", Tesco today announced they will sell carrots and mushrooms in specially marked "Wonky Veg" packs. This will give shoppers the opportunity to choose which vegetables they would like to purchase, rather than the supermarket rejecting them because of their irregular shape or size.
Every year millions of kilos of vegetables are thrown away or used as animal feed if they are classified as an irregular shape or size. Tesco Ireland buys nearly five million packs of Irish carrots every year sourced from two growers; Leo Dunne in Co Laois and John Dockrell’s in Co Wexford. Closed cup mushrooms are sourced from Codd Mushrooms in Co Carlow and Kerrigan’s Mushrooms in Co Meath.
One of the 50 Irish suppliers that showcased food products at the Tesco tent at the 2014 National Ploughing Championships, mushroom grower Leslie Codd welcomed the move by Tesco. He said: “Every year Irish vegetable growers discard millions of kilos of produce on the grounds of appearance. The reason for this is that customers have become used to buying perfect looking vegetables.
"The reality of the situation is that the 5-10% of vegetables that never make it to the retail shelf are perfectly fine. They may look a little bit odd, or wonky, but they taste every bit as good as the perfect looking produce we are used to buying. If customers bought this wonky looking veg more, it would greatly reduce wastage at farm level,” he added.
Tesco Ireland’s Fresh Buyer, Sinead McDonogh, commented: “These wonky veg mushrooms and carrots might not win a beauty contest but they are perfect for juicing or Autumn stews. There is scope for us to add more fruit and vegetables to this wonky veg line in the future but we will trial the offer first with carrots and mushrooms with a view to expanding the range depending on the response from customers. We don’t want our customers to compromise on quality, wonky veg just looks slightly different on the outside.”
However, IFA's Reilly also warned that returns to growers are currently at or below the cost of production, leaving no margin for reinvestment, weather issues or variable yields. "If the major retail multiples in this country are serious about having a sustainable fresh produce sector and ensuring a reliable supply of safe, home-grown food, they must show greater responsibility and offer a fair price to growers," he said.