Are supermarkets slowly coming back down to earth?

Back in January, I speculated Canada’s world-leading habit of food waste might soon become too embarrassing to ignore. Following the experts, I fingered supermarket waste reform in particular as a key to stemming this horrid tide.

It seems that this week, one food giant kinda stepped up to the plate. Kinda.

Though it didn’t touch on the waste problem directly, Loblaw did make an announcement this week that it will be rolling out the sale of blemished produce.

So, in what is perhaps a Canadian corporate first, a supermarket giant has acknowledged that un-cosmetic produce is actually fit for human consumption.

Sure, it’s seems like a small victory. A damn small victory. One could point out, for example, that despite the welcome news, Canada is a relative latecomer to the ugly fruit game, even as far as supermarkets go. UK chains began the practice in 2012, while France’s Intermarché giant scored a hit with their Inglorious vegetables campaign last year.

What’s more, if you’re reading Forget the Box, you probably get your fruit from farmer’s markets, “Good Food” boxes, overpriced épiceries, dépanneurs, or hell, any other store than a supermarket. So you’ll probably be quick to chastise Loblaws that this particular brand of “responsibility” is about ten years too late.

Still…could it help stem food waste, in some tiny way?

Let’s look at what we do know.

The Loblaw produce will come packaged under the label “Naturally Imperfect,” and will stand alongside its picture-perfect cousins, boasting near-equivalent taste (imagine!). The brand will at first apply only to apples and potatoes, however others are said to be on the way.

Those deeply-discounted apples in the saran wrap (think pink 50% off sticker), will not be affected due to this change.

Rather, couched in packaging that hearkens back to their popular, 90s-era “Green” and “No Name” brands, the cut-rate, yellow-bagged produce will stand as its own brand, buffered by similar rhetoric that brought the latter to fame.

Quoted in the Financial Post, Loblaw senior Director Dan Branson said, “If you were to grow produce in your backyard, there’s a lot that would grow that wouldn’t look as pretty as what you would see in a grocery store.” (imagine!)

Wait! He goes on, reminding us that even “Mother Nature doesn’t grow everything perfectly.”

You can almost feel the spirit of Arlene Zimmerman rising from this golden marketing-speak.

I imagine her leaping from her Dragon’s Den armchair, blemished McIntosh in hand, telling a would-be entrepeneur, “I’m in. Knotted, ugly vegetables are 100% on-trend.”

So while “Naturally Imperfect” promise a return to the mass market for tonnes of neglected apples and potatoes, it is also a new product in its own right.

The homely castaways seem expertly engineered to cash in on a portion of the market that—for some insane reason—other chains have been afraid to tap.

It seems the product is already selling PR-wise. Loblaws’ official announcement this week was a runaway media success, with nearly every single mainstream news organizations picking up the press release—most funnelling it through largely untouched. Even hip restos got behind the announcement, sharing it in droves.

You have to wonder why an influential brand like Loblaw waited so long to cash in.

All hype aside, I truly do hope this will have some meaning.

Perhaps previously-tossed fruit and veg will find a new nutritive home.

Perhaps the trend will ripple through other chains.

Perhaps—at the very least—some sheltered Canadian children will get to see what normal vegetables look like for the first time in their lives.

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