Last night, Craig Reucassel presented the first of three of his excellent program War on Waste on the ABC
One of the interesting, entertaining and quite thought-provoking segments of the program was about bananas. There were two aspects. The first was the cosmetic aspect of the presentation of the fruit in supermarkets and the second was the horrendously high waste of perfectly good fruit at the point of production where up to 40% of perfectly good fruit is discarded.
Craig examines a cosmetically unacceptable banana
Reucassel quite rightly poses the question of whether the so-called cosmetic selection of fruit is in response to consumer demand or through some artificially imposed standard of the supermarkets. That will probably remain a moot question.
The more important question is whether the consumer will accept slightly ” imperfect ” bananas. Apparently, lady finger bananas are meant to be straight, curved ones are unacceptable, whereas in other types of bananas the reverse is the case.
Reucassel points out the absurdity of the situation and questions why the perfectly good but slightly regular fruit can’t be brought to market as it is in some small niche supermarkets.
The answer is probably quite simply that there is no economic imperative or reward for the major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, to do so.
But stop and think for a moment what would happen if the 40% of discarded, but otherwise perfectly edible fruit, found its way onto the shelves of the major supermarkets.
Let’s assume that, at present, there is pretty much a sufficient supply of bananas to meet demand at the current price. That is, that everybody who wants a banana can afford a banana.
Now this is probably not quite true as there is probably a section of the population who can’t afford bananas at the current price so increasing the supply of bananas and hence lowering the price would make bananas more available to a slightly wider market
But it is highly unlikely that there is enough demand to soak up an extra 40% banana supply.
So if the currently discarded bananas come onto the market one of two things will happen.
The first, and highly unlikely, is that all bananas will be lumped in together at the same price. But because they don’t look quite right, the supermarkets probably won’t be able to sell them all and then the supermarkets will have to be the cost of disposing the unsold ones.
The second, and much more likely scenario, is that the market will be differentiated between nice-looking and cosmetically appealing bananas and irregular bananas, which will be priced accordingly.
This means that the big supermarket chains run the risk that the upper end of the market will be cannibalised by the less expensive low-end of the market, particularly as consumers become more savvy and realise they can get good bananas for less money.
In either of these cases, it is unlikely that the supermarkets will be selling many more bananas. They will be selling roughly the same number but for less they will probably and they will probably endeavour to maintain their profit margins by cutting the price they pay farmers for the “lower quality” bananas.
Under this scenario, farmers will be shipping the same volume of bananas, but instead of sending 100% cosmetically perfect bananas, they will now be sending 60% cosmetically perfect and 40% imperfect. And they will be making less money on the 40% of imperfect bananas
In addition, they will still have 40% of their production that the supermarkets will be not being able to sell and they will have to dispose of.
But now that 40% will be the cosmetically perfect bananas.
So if the producer is able to ship their imperfect fruit to the supermarkets, it may mean that the consumer will get cheaper less perfect fruit but it won’t stop waste on the farms.
Bananas will still go to waste, they will just be better bananas