Misshapen fruits and vegetables are being diverted from the landfill thanks to an innovative program launched by a southern Alberta farmers’ cooperative.
Normally, the produce featured in grocery stores looks perfect – shiny and round – due to certain aesthetic standards. But as any gardener will tell you, they don’t always turn out that way and that doesn’t impact their quality.
“A cucumber that looks like a hockey stick is no less nutritious or delicious in a salad than the perfect cucumber you see at a grocery store,” explained Mike Meinhardt, marketing and sales manager at Red Hat Co-op in Redcliff, Alta.
Because of pests, the elements and genetics, between 20 and 25 per cent of produce grown outside in farmers’ fields or orchards is typically rejected by grocery stores and ends up in the landfill.
Misfits is Red Hat’s way of trying to eliminate all of that food waste.
“We wanted to find a way to sell our growers’ entire crop.”
Misfits got its start two years ago as a pilot program in 11 stores in Medicine Hat, Redcliff and Calgary.
Meinhardt said the food is still perfectly healthy.
“We don’t sacrifice quality or freshness,” he said. “It’s just cosmetically deformed in one way or another.”
“We started getting phone calls from other farmers – whether they were orange, apple, avocado or mango farmers, saying, ‘Could we be part of this?'”
Consumers loved the idea as well – so much so that Red Hat was able to convince grocery giant Save-On-Foods to test the program at one of their stores in Regina, Sask.
It was hugely successful – so one month ago, Save-On stores across Alberta picked up the Misfits, including the Old Strathcona location.
They normally have two bins of Misfit produce but they sold so much, they condensed it into one bin Friday.
“Typically we have lemons and limes in bags. We’ve had peppers the entire time, recently we got peaches in and apples. I think we’re getting in cucumbers and zucchinis soon,” the store’s assistant produce manager, Casi Brown, said.
The program’s benefits are three-fold.
“The grower is making a little money. Socially we’re diverting food from landfill and putting it in people’s mouths and on their dinner table and in the end, the consumer saves some money on their grocery bill all at the same time,” Meinhardt explained .
Misfit produce sells for 30 to 50 per cent less than regular fruits and vegetables.
“Right now, a three-pack of peppers is $2.99 with your Save-On card whereas a regular pepper is $2.99 per pound,” Brown said.
Meinhardt believes Red Hat is benefiting in part because of the challenging economy.
“When times are tough, people look for any way to save money. You don’t want to stop buying fruits and vegetables from your family because they’re healthy and nutritious and that’s not something you want to sacrifice.”
Mary-Ellen Perley, a Save-On-Foods customer, has purchased Misfits in the last few weeks.
“Just because it might not be the perfect size or shape or it might have a small imperfection, that doesn’t change the taste or quality of it. I’m all for it! I was delighted when I saw that bin.”
She said people need to change their idea of what food should look like.
“Look at humans, we’re not perfect. So why should we expect the things we eat to look a certain why? And if it doesn’t look that way we get rid of it? That’s wasteful.”