‘Public will buy farm produce rejected by supermarkets’

November 4, 2015

War on Waste

WAR ON WASTE: These parsnips are unusually large – would they have been thrown away by Morrison’s? With the rest of the veg and figures given by the War on Waste programme, a third of these vegetables shown would be thrown away. Wasting food like this along with meat products can cost up to £15 per week. Picture by Carlos Ucha.

Morrisons Logo

NO SHOW: Morrison’s released the following statement – “We’ve carefully considered your offer of the parsnips and ways to reduce the number but it is not one for us. I’ll explain why. Several years ago we introduced wonky parsnips into our stores but they simply didn’t sell – customers didn’t want them.”



MAKING THE GRADE: River Cottage presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall handed out rejected parsnips to customers outside a Morrison’s supermarket branch and couldn’t find anyone who wouldn’t buy, cook and eat them. Picture by Paul Tomlin.




PUBLIC experiments have found consumers will purchase vegetables that don’t fit supermarket graded standards that would be otherwise be thrown away.

There are so many things we can do to minimise food waste and it is not necessarily our fault but supermarkets do have a lot to answer for, says  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

What about all those BOGOF (buy one get one free) deals are good for consumers, aren’t they? But how much is exactly being wasted.

According to Hugh’s War on Waste, a programme hosted by the River Cottage celebrity cook and sustainability living campaigner, we are throwing away four million tonnes of perfectly good food which is costing the average British family £700 a year. This is the equivalent of 88 full black wheely bins of food and a day’s food every week – if that is a family budget it could be £15 a week.

Back in the mid-Noughties (2000-10), I was told by a staff member of the Somerset Waste Partnership at Dimmer in Castle Cary that an landfill space the size of six football pitches serving just the rural districts of South Somerset and Mendip alone would be filled within three years.

“Millions of people in the UK are struggling to pay their food bills but a third of food we buy never gets eaten. That has to be wrong and I want to do something about it.”

Large businesses that have catering departments are not allowed to let their kitchen staff take any food home with them and this gets wasted too, and can’t be re-used or sent to where it really is needed, like food banks.

In the course of the programme, Hugh pulls aside a few shoppers in a branch of Tesco’s in Manchester to show that 30 per cent of what they will purchase will be chucked and to illustrate this point, he proceeds to open up bags of carrots, potatoes and salad and throws away into a black wheely bin the equivalent of what would actually not be used.

As part of a nine-week experiment, he works with a group of residents in a street in Manchester to encourage them to reduce their food waste.

But it is not all the fault of the consumer, much of it doesn’t even reach the market stall or supermarket aisles, not even off the farm.

He approached 50 farmers to see if they would participate in the programme to illustrate how much fruit and vegetables are thrown because of the supermarket grading system. Most didn’t want their names made public through fears of losing existing supplier contracts but Norfolk parsnip farmers, mother and son, Debbie and Olly Hammond, were an exception to that rule.

Hugh said: “Almost all supermarket fruit and veg is graded using strict cosmetic standards to the millimetre exactly what is acceptable. Some of the food that fails this beauty contest can be used as animal feed or used in other products like soup or salad.

“The rest is left to rot or is ploughed back into the ground. We’re not even looking for the bad parsnips; we are looking for the beautiful parsnips and everything else is getting rejected. Dumping good food when millions of people in Britain are going hungry is surely completely unacceptable.”

Whilst on air, the Hammonds are close to calling it a day and they and Hugh are filmed next to 20 tonnes of parsnips, a week’s waste of vegetables. Their grandfather, who founded the business, would not have had this cosmetic standard policy demanded by Morrison’s in place to generate the waste.

Hugh said: “Of course Morrison’s is not the only supermarket whose cosmetic standards cause massive waste on our farms. It is not just wasting food, but all the energy, resources and manpower going in to produce it.” This is the equivalent of 280 shopping trolleys of perfectly edible parsnips.

While procrastinating with the programme that they would not do an interview on camera and the Hammonds said they would not be interviewed on camera again until they had been paid for their last crop.

The supermarket giant sent an e-mailed statement which read: “We’ve carefully considered your offer of the parsnips and ways to reduce the number but it is not one for us. I’ll explain why. Several years ago we introduced wonky parsnips into our stores but they simply didn’t sell – customers didn’t want them.”

To counteract this, Hugh set up a stall outside a Morrison’s branch with parsnip rejects asking their customers whether they would refuse to buy them or not, the response did not go to the Morrison’s script. All the customers on camera were happy to buy non-cosmetic produce.

Hugh added: “After today, I’m convinced British shoppers will buy, cook and eat the perfectly decent produce our supermarkets are rejecting.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

From a reader December 22, 2015 at 10:06 pm

He needs to come to my work.they bin loads!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: