Misfits ugly produce program takes grower adjustment, says Robinson Fresh - FreshFruitPortal.com

Misfits ugly produce program takes grower adjustment, says Robinson Fresh

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Misfits ugly produce program takes grower adjustment, says Robinson Fresh

Since French supermarket chain Intermarche put ugly produce in the spotlight in 2014, the movement has been embraced by some around the world and shunned by others. It is understood many U.S. retailers have opted to scale back their forays into the category, but fresh products and solutions provider Robinson Fresh is going in the opposite direction with a new approach. In this first instalment of a three-part series on the group's new initiatives we take a look at its 'Misfits' program.

Irreverent, fun and with a sense of purpose, Robinson Fresh's Misfits-labeled bags of second grade fruits and vegetables were launched in Baltimore earlier last month, banking on one of the biggest trends in the industry as consumers become more aware about food waste.  misfits

These misshapen creations originally came from Red Hat Co-operative in Canada, but have been licensed to Robinson Fresh for use in the U.S.

"About 40% of food is not getting to market, whether that be the look, texture, appeal. We're trying to eliminate that," general manager Hunter Winton told www.freshfruitportal.com during the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Orlando.

"It gives us the ability to take what isn't necessarily perfect fruit but still good-looking fruit that is high quality, of high nutrition, and get it to market so that consumers can get the value that’s there in that pack, while helping growers and the supply chain in eliminating food waste.

"It comes out probably 20-40% on average cheaper than the U.S. Grade A1 item that you might see on the shelf, depending on the commodity."

Winton added the initiative also improved accessibility for some families who might not have consistent access to fruits and vegetables they can afford.

"And it's for children too and obviously we want to continue focusing on them eating better beyond this program, like with our Kids Eat Fresh initiative," he said.

"Right now we are primarily in the Midwest and the East Coast. We are going to be moving into the West Coast as well – we’re in the final phases of our pilot so we have several retailers on the program and they have varying store numbers participating as they do their own tests around consumer demand for the item."

He said retailers had been "very interested" in the product, but most important was understanding the message around reducing food waste, not just at the corporate level but especially for chains' produce department employees.

"We want to make sure they can tell that proper story," Winton said.

"The items are going to vary – we’ll have four to six items available at a time, and we want the consumer to come back the following week and ask what’s new and fill their bag up.

misfits-2"It’s always going to be in some kind of bag versus sitting out loose – that makes sure that when it goes across the register it’s getting rung up for the value that it’s there for.

He said SKUs (stock keeping units) would depend on product availability, but at the fair for example the company was showcasing its Misfits bags of easy peelers, apples, cucumbers, squashes, limes and lemons.

"You definitely want it to be in prominent spots when consumers come in – it’s visible, they understand it," he said.

"It does differentiate itself from other parts of the department. We also have signage that we put above the bin that clearly talks about the goals of the program."

But the big question when it comes to ugly produce is where does Robinson Fresh draw the line for what is acceptable?

"We’re definitely not going to pack anything that’s a quality issue - anything that has to do with the food breaking down quickly," he said.

"They’re going to have the same shelf life as any of the other products – mainly it’s just about the shape, scarring or coloration.

"Coloration is a big aspect that consumers are looking for today but it doesn’t change the nutritional value, the taste."

In other words, Robinson Fresh has put a fairly radical proposal on the table, and one that will require education for consumers, retailers and growers alike.

"Definitely the consumer in the U.S. is used to a certain type of look to an item, and it takes time to change that perception - I think as Millennials get older they have a focus on sustainability and environmental issues,  and this being a very important one with the amount of food that’s wasted.

"There's also the execution aspect - if your produce department isn’t trained well on what the program is trying to accomplish then you might not see the same success you’d see with a strong level of education."

He said through the Misfits program growers had the opportunity to sell more product, and not have crops go to waste that might normally be left out in the field.

"They’ve got to get used to the fact that it’s okay to harvest this product they normally didn’t because it wasn’t going to sell. This is an opportunity to continue to educate the grower base in terms of yields in the field," he said.



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