Why Your Fruit And Veg Could Look Different This Season
Apples and cauliflowers may be smaller, mangoes might have unusual marks -- but there's a good reason why you should keep buying it this season, to support farmers affected by fires and drought.
Imperfect fresh produce will be appearing in your local supermarket soon, but we're being asked to buy it -- and eat it -- to help support farmers hit hard by bushfires and drought.
You may have seen signs at the shops explaining how the bushfire crisis, and the ongoing punishing drought, is hurting primary producers.
Shelves and displays of fresh fruit and vegetables are running low in some parts of the country, while some supermarkets are posting notices in stores warning customers that supplies of some products have been affected by fires.
Road closures and fire danger in recent weeks means delivery trucks have had to take far longer journeys than usual, impinging on the availability of some products, while blazes may have simply burned up some crops.
Drought and fires have been blamed for interrupted supplies of green beans, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, berries, lettuces and more.
Stores and growers are working to increase supply, but that means shoppers may be seeing slightly different-looking fruit and vegetables than they're used to in Coles and Woolworths stores.
Usually, the big supermarkets have strict rules on the quality of produce they accept, but recent tough conditions have led Coles to relax some of their specifications, allowing in 'imperfect' fruit and vegetables onto shelves under a push named 'flawed but adored'.
"We regularly work with our suppliers to provide flexibility on fruit and vegetable specifications, especially during extreme weather events," a Woolworths spokesperson said, adding the supermarket had also "accepted 70 active variations [of fruit and veg] from around 100 suppliers".
Lowering specifications of fruit and vegetables means more supply on shelves. Growers are stressing the produce is of similar quality and taste to the normal supply, but may just look a little different.
"We know this produce still tastes great and is just as good for you, even when it is not quite picture-perfect," said David Thomson, of Queensland horticulture group Growcom.
"Too much of our produce has been wasted because it hasn’t met specifications. So we’d hope having been given a taste this season, that consumers will continue to choose small, blemished or misshapen fruits and vegetables."
Some supermarkets, such as Harris Farm, have long sold imperfect produce in stores in an effort to cut down food waste and support producers. Woolworths said it had sold more than 130 million kilograms of produce under its 'Odd Bunch' program, which offers imperfect fruit and vegetables for a discount.
“Mangoes may have a few marks, apples might be a little smaller, but it’s important for consumers to know that even if fresh produce doesn’t look absolutely perfect, it still tastes just as good," Queensland's state minister for agricultural industry development, Mark Furner, said of the type of produce that may be appearing in stores.
"And they’ll be helping our farmers at a time when they need it most."
Other produce such as cauliflower may be smaller than usual.
Queensland farmer Tim Carnell, who grows capsicum and tomatoes, said the drought and hail storms had affected his crops. He said the produce he managed to grow was nearly as good as usual, but that the imperfections included tomatoes not being as large, or capsicums being "slightly mis-shapen".
"It’s critical for the long-term survival of Aussie farmers that customers continue to buy and enjoy the fresh food we grow, even if it’s not perfect to look at," he said.
Carnell asked shoppers to still buy fresh produce, even if it looked slightly different, saying "the worst thing for us would be for shoppers to turn their nose up" at imperfect fruit and vegetables.
A spokesperson for Ausveg, the peak industry body for Australia's vegetable growers, welcomed the push to have more imperfect produce -- which "still meet strict quality standards" -- in shops.
"We want to see more people having access to high-quality, locally-grown fresh vegetables, and any moves by the retailers to work with growers to get good quality produce on the supermarket shelves, even if it might look a little different to what people are used to, are welcome," the spokesperson told 10 daily.
"The industry is supportive of initiatives to reduce food waste and ensure consumers have access to healthy, high-quality produce, as growers don’t want to see good quality produce wasted because of how it looks."
Coles Group CEO Steven Cain, said his supermarkets would stock imperfect produce "nationwide".
“Our customers are very keen to support Australian farmers, so we’re hoping they join us in looking beyond a few surface imperfections," he said.
"The beauty of Australian produce is certainly more than skin deep."