‘Funny-looking solution’ could be answer to food waste

It may not look as appealing as we expect. But that might be the key to resolving the issue of food waste.

It may not look as appealing as we expect. But that might be the key to resolving the issue of food waste. Photo: Getty

Many of us enjoy biting into a perfectly glossy apple, or chopping a pleasingly-symmetrical capsicum – but our desire for perfection in fresh produce has an alarming downside.

It creates a huge amount of food waste, with millions of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables left to rot on farms simply because they don’t meet big retailers’ cosmetic standards.

Alarm at that waste is driving clever ideas to make better use of Australia’s abundant produce.

A recent addition to the ranks is Offbeat Harvest. Founder Alex Dask said he was inspired after learning how much of an issue food waste is in Australia.

Food rescue charity OzHarvest says Australia wastes more than 7.6 million tonnes of food every year. More than 2.5 million tonnes of that is from farms and primary producers.

Half of all fresh produce never even gets off the farm where it is grown because one of the key reasons for dumping it is that it doesn’t meet supermarket standards.

Food left rotting on farms

Dask said he didn’t feel the major supermarket chains would have any real drive to solve the problem because produce with cosmetic issues (the blemished, the misshapen and the otherwise unattractive) tended to sit longer on shelves.

Dask started Offbeat Harvest in late 2023. It offers a subscription model that sends boxes of “imperfect” produce to customers at prices it claims are 40 per cent lower than the regular retail market – billed on its website as “the funny-looking solution”.

OffBeat Harvest so far works with 10 farmers to fulfil orders across greater Sydney. Dask said many of those farmers had tales of tonnes of produce left to rot on their land.

A longer-than-usual cucumber or a bumpy carrot are just as good to eat as picture-perfect versions. Photo: OffBeat Harvest

And the issue goes beyond wasted food – it’s also environmental.

An OzHarvest spokesperson said about 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions came from food waste.

In Australia, this represents 17.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

“I feel like startups are filling that gap in taking the responsibility to educate the market,” Dask said.

“One of the advantages [to] a lot of these startups that are popping up in this space is we are just focused on this imperfect range.

“Therefore, we need to ensure that we’re educating the market about the benefits, which primarily is a cost benefit at this stage … But beyond that, I think there’s that broader education piece of … ultimately improving [the issue of] food waste here in Australia.”


‘Ugly’ fresh produce could be part of the answer to helping Australians struggling with the surging cost of living. Photo: OzHarvest

Innovation key to easing food waste

OffBeat Harvest is one of several start-ups that have emerged in recent years to try to resolve the issue of food waste. Others include Farmers Pick, Good & Fugly, Funky Food and OddProd.

Major retailers such as Coles and Woolworths also offer ranges of imperfect fresh produce.

Efforts to redirect food waste have also led to apps such as the Woolworths-backed Refresh:Food. It offers a platform for farmers to sell surplus or imperfect food.

The OzHarvest spokesperson pointed to innovation as a crucial way to resolve the national issues of food waste and food insecurity.

“We’ve all seen some of the weird, wonky and wonderful shapes of so-called ‘imperfect’ produce, but the truth is it all tastes the same,” they said.

“Consumers have been conditioned over years of buying perfectly sized vegetables, so both consumer and supermarket standards lead to perfectly edible produce not being sold.

“With cost-of-living pressures increasing, the number of people who are food insecure, it’s crazy to be wasting good quality, nutritious food when there are people who could eat it.”

The spokesperson said OzHarvest, alongside Foodbank Australia and SecondBite, was also advocating for a national tax incentive for farmers and logistics companies to help get perfectly edible food from farms to plates. They said other countries had reaped “huge benefits” from similar policies.

For example, in the US, businesses that donate food inventory to qualified organisations are generally entitled to tax deductions; in France, businesses also receive tax breaks for donated food.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.