Can This Petition Convince Walmart to Stop Trashing Imperfect Produce?
Lumpy tomatoes and oversize zucchinis are sprouting in summer gardens across America. But imperfect-looking, commercially grown produce rarely make it onto grocery store shelves even though millions of Americans don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables and go to bed hungry.
That’s why Jordan Figueiredo, the founder of “Ugly Fruit and Veg,” a campaign that aims to eliminate food waste, is traveling to Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas on Wednesday. Figueiredo, a 37-year-old solid-waste specialist from the Bay Area, hopes to hand over 143,000 signatures from a petition he started to get the retail behemoth to sell discounted “ugly” produce—fruits and vegetables that are ripe but either too large, too small, or slightly misshapen.
Last year, Figueiredo worked with Stefanie Sacks, a culinary nutritionist, on a petition that urged Walmart and Whole Foods to sell ugly fruits and vegetables at a discount. After the petition received 111,000 signatures, Whole Foods took action. In April, the grocery store chain launched a pilot program selling three types of produce at five stores and is in the process of expanding the program to 11 other locations.
“To buy a lot of good fresh produce and have a more plant-based diet is not cheap,” Figueiredo told TakePart. “It is perfectly fresh and delicious—it just might look a little different. There are comments on our petition from people that say they can barely afford food, so they don’t buy much fresh produce, so this makes a huge difference.”
Now it’s Walmart’s turn to change, Figueiredo said. He wants the chain to sell misshapen produce at a 30 to 50 percent discount, which is what Whole Foods and other stores are selling it for.
“People seem to really want it. Other stores that have done it have been successful with the discount, and they’re buying more produce overall,” Figueiredo said. “That’s the goal here: It’s not just to replace the regular produce with the ugly produce; it’s buying more produce overall because we all need to eat more [fruits and vegetables] anyway.”
About 20 percent of produce grown in America never leaves the farm because grocers won’t sell whole unappealing fruits and vegetables on store shelves. Some imperfect produce gets purchased and turned into juices, sauces, and purees but not enough to account for the $165 billion Americans waste on uneaten produce annually. Meanwhile, about 90 percent of Americans aren’t eating the daily recommended amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, and 20 percent of kids go to bed hungry.
“This is a completely new way of tackling food waste from a grocer’s perspective,” Figueiredo said. “It’s essentially the stuff that doesn’t get harvested because grocers won’t buy it, but now they’re going to be looking at it more.”
Figueiredo said the campaign wants Walmart to take the lead on a shift toward buying more produce overall from American farmers. Walmart executives “definitely sound open to talking about this,” he said.
With more than 4,000 stores nationwide, the retailer is the largest seller of groceries in the United States. As a result, it could create a new market for ugly fruits and veggies by offering large quantities of fresh produce to families who normally wouldn’t be able to afford them at full price.
Walmart has taken steps to eliminate food waste, such as occasionally selling less-than-picturesque potatoes, Figueiredo said, but he hopes to help establish a more comprehensive program at the retailer by the end of the year.
“What we’re looking for and what our petitioners are looking for is a full program like [Walmart executives] have at their grocery store Asda in the U.K., where they sell multiple types of fruits and vegetables, and it’s all year-round at many stores around the country,” Figueiredo said.