Waitrose offers 'ugly' fruit and vegetables at discount rate

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The first shift appears today in the big supermarkets' ruthless quest for picture-perfect fruit and vegetables, long hated by many farmers and growers for the waste that it involves.

Waitrose, the upmarket chain owned by the John Lewis partnership, is launching a range of "ugly" looking seasonal fruit at discounted prices for use in cooking. The "class two" produce will be either visually flawed or oddly shaped, according to Waitrose, but otherwise perfect for eating.

But because the plums, strawberries, raspberries and other items are not ideal in appearance, they will be marketed for use in cookery and jam-making at a reduced price, in packs costing 50p to £1 less per kilo than their perfect-looking equivalents.

Waitrose says it is launching the initiative to help its suppliers save on wastage while offering a price deal to its customers. "It means our existing growers and suppliers can sell us their class-two produce, which normally they would have had to sell elsewhere," a Waitrose spokeswoman said.

"The eating quality is exactly the same as class one, but as they are not class one in appearance we are branding them as part of our range of cooks' ingredients."

Waitrose fruit buyer Tom Richardson said: "Supermarkets are often criticised for rejecting fruit and vegetables because they don't look picture-perfect.

"But this innovative new range will help our customers realise that while beauty might be skin deep, flavour certainly isn't."

The range, which goes on sale at 57 of the 179 Waitrose branches from today, will include year-round rhubarb and Bramley apples, plus seasonal plums, cherries, pears, quince and other berries. The big supermarkets' insistence on cosmetically-attractive produce is a great bone of contention with growers.

It means that large parts of a crop, and sometimes a crop in its entirety, can be rejected for visual imperfections. Whole harvests have been dumped, or left on the tree. A survey by Friends of the Earth found some growers complaining that the conditions were impossible to meet.

Fruit could be rejected because of minor skin blemishes or for being the wrong size; apples could be rejected for not being red enough, or for being too red, while pears could be rejected for not being sufficiently pear-shaped. Even cooking apples are rejected because of cosmetic standards despite the fact that they will normally be peeled.

The survey found that supermarkets go beyond the already strict standards for cosmetic appearance set out by the European Union, and that appearance standards have got even stricter in recent years. Furthermore, the group said, the supermarket's pre-occupation with appearance is forcing growers to use more pesticides on their produce.

The Waitrose policy shift was warmly welcomed by Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, the organic farming pressure group. "I think it's absolutely brilliant, and long overdue," he said. "Organic farmers who are growing potatoes or carrots can have up to 40 per cent of their crop rejected because of the way it looks. This is a very good step forward indeed."

Waitrose has taken several steps to "reconnect" farmers and consumers in recent months including a series of "Meet the Farmer" sessions at Waitrose branches and agricultural shows, and a programme of workshops for farmers. Waitrose's boss, the John Lewis chairman Sir Stuart Hampson, is the current president of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.