Australia faces a severe problem with food waste: 7.6 million tonnes annually, according to Foodbank. What’s particularly tragic about this is just how preventable it is. So much of the food that goes to waste is thrown into landfill for cosmetic reasons, according to the first The Farm To Supermarket Food Waste Report 2023.

The report was built from a survey of farmers of all sizes, from those generating less than $500,000 in produce annually to the largest commercial farms. What it found was twofold: Firstly, Australian farmers are finding it tough and food rejected from supermarkets is a significant symptom of the pain. 

For example, the number one reason for food being rejected by supermarkets is cosmetic. Just 26% of fruit and vegetables that were rejected had something to do with ripeness, and just 9% was because of pest infestation. Aside from that, the general appearance of the produce, and its size, were the reasons cited for rejected food. 

When food is rejected, in over half of cases (58%) the supermarkets expect the farmer to give it to them at a steeply reduced price, or free. In 19% of cases it’s simply thrown away. 

What these percentages mean translates to a massive burden that supply chains place on farmers. $20 billion is lost to the economy through food waste. Individual farmers can lose as much as $50,000 this way. 

What can be done with “imperfect” food?

At Good & Fugly, we work with farmers and consumers daily and can see the impact the food waste issue has first-hand. There needs to be a change. With this report, it’s the food waste lost between farm and supermarket we wanted to unpack. We’re hoping as the years go on, we see some of the numbers shift as attitudes towards the aesthetics of fruit and vegetables change. But for now, we’ve still got a long way to go.

There have been initiatives in recent years by supermarkets to find a way of taking on this produce. Coles ran the “I’m Perfect” line in 2020, and Woolworths’ “Odd Bunch,” launched in 2023, is its own take on the solution. These lines offer consumers “ugly” fruit and vegetables at a steep discount. 

However, as The Farm To Supermarket Food Waste Report 2023 highlights, the cost of this saving is a burden that farmers are expected to bear.

A more effective way of fighting food waste is to ensure that everyone gains from improving the supply chain and the expectations placed on food aesthetics. 

For example, at Good & Fugly we buy the produce at a fair market rate from farmers and then ship boxes of fruit and vegetables to consumers directly. The efficient supply chain helps deliver savings, while also ensuring freshness and flavour, meaning that both consumers and the farmer’s benefit.  

There is also the opportunity to be innovative with these products. “Imperfect” produce can be used for tinned food, or the production of jams, other condiments, and soaps. However, repurposing food like this requires infrastructure and investment. As farmers find themselves in a healthier financial position, they’ll be able to make those investments, and then, not only will Australia be actively addressing its food waste, but we’ll also see a wave of innovation through our agricultural sector that will benefit us all. 

As The Farm To Supermarket Food Waste Report 2023 highlights, this positive and mutually beneficial cycle at attacking food waste starts with addressing the cost burden that “ugly” food puts on the farmers. Supermarkets must step up and do their part in this regard.

Richard Tourino is co-founder of Good & Fugly.