How to adhere to strict retailer admission policies and still avoid waste

The British supermarket has inadvertently become an elite club; only allowing in the beautiful and perfectly shaped – Fruit and vegetables that is. Yes, believe it or not, our fruit and veg comes in all shapes and sizes, a fact you’d be forgiven for overlooking considering most of us only see them on supermarket shelves.

Many of the fruit and vegetables grown feature an array of little oddities, perhaps an extra limb or maybe a few additional lumps and bumps; we all know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts – particularly true in a pumpkin’s case, but sadly we’re still a way off before our supermarkets, and indeed us, the public become ‘all inclusive’.

This was the focus of Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped, where presenter Jimmy Doherty embarked on a mission to discover the secret behind a retailer’s ‘admission policy’ – ensuring that vegetable are “perfect every time”.

Visiting a large onion grower in Norfolk, the programme learnt that every one of the 290 million onions grown every year on this farm goes through quality control, where they are literally held against a specification sent from the retailer.

In this instance, as is the case with thousands of other growers across the world, the specification had come via Greenlight Quality Control from Muddy Boots. The grower explained that by using this software they had immediate access to the specification set out by the retailer, so they were always aware of the criteria for acceptable produce. About 50% of their onions make the premium grade specified by the retailer, but around 35% are too small and are therefore sold loose or in value packs. Finally around 12% are too big and are processed into ready meals. The rest ends up as cattle feed.

These figures do raise a question. We hear a lot about pre-consumer food waste – but where and how does that happen in these scenarios? This episode didn’t explore this, but significant levels of food waste occurs when produce that fails to make the grade is sent to the retailer regardless; usually because clear and up-to-date specifications have not been shared. It is in these situations that food has to be rejected and the produce goes to waste. The knock-on effect is felt by the supplier (through freight costs and retailer fines), the retailer (through diluted quantities of produce) and the consumer (through empty shelves).

It is through using a tool like Greenlight Quality Control that this wastage can be greatly reduced, by up to 50% according to some customers. By connecting with the retailer via Greenlight QC technology, the onion farm featured in Food Unwrapped knows exactly what the retailer is expecting and therefore can set up systems to ensure only appropriate produce is shipped before unnecessary costs are incurred. While inadequate onions may fetch a smaller price, they can at least be sent to an appropriate customer and as a result, they’ll have a much better chance of making it to the dinner table.

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