Why selling ugly produce to big kitchens just makes sense

What are the opportunities and barriers for using 2. class produce in big kitchens?

A mountain of food waste encountered at a farm during one of our research trips

The problem in Denmark is that 2.class produce — that is crooked carrots, too small apples, deformed cucumbers or slightly too-yellow-to-be-green-peppers are not on the kitchen ordering lists at the wholesalers. That is because 1. class produce achieves higher market prices, but also because often, kitchen’s don’t know such produce exists, simply because there is no market place for it.

Why using 2. class produce is an attractive alternative

When operating on a daily basis, big kitchens are financially under pressure to hold their budgets. That means that greens have to be handled time efficiently (time = money) as well as purchased at a low price.

On top of that, the trend of increased sustainability means that some kitchens would like to contribute to more sustainability, and one way to do this, argues the study, is to use 2. class produce in big kitchens.

In combination with the promise of a better economy, as many 2. class products will be purchased cheaper than their class 1 opponents, and increased level of sustainability by using food that would normally go to waste, leaves us to find out whether or not using 2. class produce might have an economical advantage for big kitchens, paving the way for a market place for ugly produce.

The study

The practical study “Mindre madspild ved anvendelse af 2. sorterings grøntsager i storkøkkener” (Less Food Waste by using 2nd grade vegetables in industrial kitchens) has been carried out during the autumn of 2015 for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency as a deliverance under the “Less Food Waste Partnership” scheme. The aim of the study was to gain knowledge about the barriers and opportunities for using 2nd grade vegetables in industrial kitchens.

Class 2 and 3 carrots and their peels. Pic by Dorthe Lynnerup

The practical studies were conducted in eight industrial kitchens, where data was collected about the differences of prepping 1. and 2. class produce for the day’s canteen food, specifically onions, leeks and carrots. The data measured the amount of time used and vegetable weight before and after preparation. The practical study also involved interviews, where the kitchen employees contributed with input about kitchen practice and their opinions about the use of 2. grade vegetables.

Data from theses practical studies created the foundation for calculating the economic consequences and extra costs involved in using 1. and 2. class vegetables.

The main conclusion

Is that parameters such as working time spent, purchasing price, rate of use and application are imperative to the savings potential for 2. grade vegetables. The results show that there is an economic advantage in using 2. grade onions, whilst there is a moderate advantage in using 2nd grade leeks and almost no advantage in using 2nd grade carrots.

Specifically, onions were 16% faster to handle due to missing outer layers (hence peeling time is reduced) while leek and carrots took longer to handle and more percentage of the total weight was required to be peeled off. However, the significantly lower purchase price of leek made the 2. class version more economically attractive than 1. class, whereas the carrots are more costly when 2. class is used.

So when trying to answer whether or not it makes sense to use 2. class produce, the answer is: it depends on the type of produce and use.

How the future could look like:

Future perspectives are that there is a need to follow up on the concrete results and to prepare 2. grade onions and leeks for the commercial market. The study has proven meaningful to the staff that contributed to less food waste. However, one major take-away is that it’s important that kitchen staff spends as little time as possible with the handling. It is also important that kitchen staff thinks of new ways of how to use the 2. class veggies: maybe the carrots can be used in a different way that would require less time for handling. Therefore, it’s important that the staff is educated about the goal of the raw material, in order to judge the degree of peeling required.

There is a need for further development projects in the industrial kitchens regarding the use of other types of 2. grade vegetables, as well as with the primary producers concerning the development, sorting and description of quality and application of the vegetables. Finally, there is a need to involve the wholesaler, who plays an important part in ensuring that trade with 2. grade vegetables can be implemented.