BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is selling less-than-perfect produce in hopes of reducing food waste. It’s one of several initiatives under way as the world’s largest grocer aims to tackle the issue.
This summer, a brand of apples from Washington state called “I’m Perfect” debuted in about 300 Wal-Mart stores in Florida. The apples, which eventually will be available in 12 varieties, including Granny Smith and Red Delicious, may bear bumps and bruises from weather damage but are still perfectly edible, said Shawn Baldwin, senior vice-president of global food sourcing, product and floral, at Wal-Mart US.
|Shawn Baldwin, senior vice president of global food sourcing|
“One of the challenges growers have is that Mother Nature can throw a curveball such as a hailstorm, high winds or even a string of very hot sunny days, which can damage the exterior finish of fruits,” Baldwin wrote on a corporate blog. “While the texture and flavor remain perfect, the exterior damage usually renders these fruits unsellable in the fresh market because they fail to meet traditional grade standards. We’re proud to be the first retailer to bring these apples to you.”
The launch of “I’m Perfect” apples is a result of Wal-Mart working with its suppliers to create an infrastructure and processes to sell imperfect produce, which can occur unexpectedly in any growing season or crop, Baldwin said. Earlier this year, the retailer began selling Spuglies, weather-damaged Russet potatoes, in Texas stores at a value price.
“From helping our growers find alternate uses for these less-than-gorgeous fruits, such as making apple juice or selling small apples for lunch kits, we are committed to identifying options to get less than perfect fruit to market and thereby reduce this type of food waste,” Baldwin said.
Another common cause of food waste in the United States is confusion over food labels, said Frank Yiannas, vice-president of food safety at Wal-Mart. This issue in May prompted a joint effort in the US Senate and House of Representatives to standardize date labels on food products to eliminate confusion and prevent billions of pounds of food from premature disposal into landfills across the country.
|Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Wal-Mart|
“Consumers often mistake date labels as food safety indicators; however, most of the labels are created based on peak quality,” Yiannas wrote in a separate blog. “Adding to the confusion is the different language used on labels, including ‘best by,’ ‘use by’ and ‘sell by.’ That’s why, in the last year, we started requiring suppliers of nonperishable food products under our Great Value private label to use a standardized date label, ‘Best if used by.’”
The switch went into full effect in July and involves thousands of products, he said. Wal-Mart has been seeking a solution to the issue of food label confusion after a report from Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, entitled “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America,” was released in 2013.
“After surveying our customers about how they would choose a food label that indicated a change in quality but not safety, there was a clear winner: ‘Best if used by,’” Yiannas said. “I expect the standard labels to have an even bigger impact on waste reduction since many of our suppliers sell products under their own labels outside of Wal-Mart. This is significant, as the global economic impact of food wastage comes to about $750 billion each year.”
All told, Wal-Mart has been working for more than a decade to create a zero waste future by making changes in its business practices and throughout its supply chain. In 2009, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club US launched an organics recycling program nationwide.
“As of 2015, the equivalent of more than 25,000 tractor-trailers full of food waste has been diverted out of the waste stream through composting, conversion to animal feed and energy production through anaerobic digestion,” Yiannas said.
And last year, Wal-Mart began selling garden products from Ecoscraps, a company that converts food waste into organic, sustainable lawn materials.
“To date, our sales of these products amount to more than 2.4 million lbs. of food waste diverted from landfills,” Yiannas said.
Another recent initiative is expected to prevent millions of eggs from being tossed each year. Wal-Mart has collaborated with regulators to establish a simple, safe process to remove and replace broken eggs from cartons with undamaged eggs. Previously, regulations prohibited grocers to consolidate cartons if one or more eggs were broken, so the entire carton would be thrown away, according to Wal-Mart.
“Food waste is a big problem that will only get bigger as the world’s population grows,” Yiannas said. “Countries around the globe are realizing we’re not going to be able to produce our way to feeding 9 billion people, so we have to reduce food waste now.”