Woolworths has come up with an ingenious plan to shift spotty, brown and blackened bananas that picky customers usually reject. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Woolworths has come up with an ingenious plan to shift spotty, brown and blackened bananas that picky customers usually reject. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Food Woolies can’t give away for free

A Woolworths exec has urged customers to be less picky about the look of their fruit and veggies, saying perfectly good food isn't being sold because some shoppers value "visual appearance" above quality.

Talking to news.com.au Andy Thomas, one of the supermarket giant's most senior managers, said in some cases they couldn't even give away perfectly edible food.

It happens in all produce but one of the clearest examples, he said, was bananas. It may be one of the best-selling single items in store, but the vast majority of customers avoid buying anything other than a perfectly yellow banana with no scratches, marks or discolouration.

"With bananas, customers can be very particular about what ones that will buy, and while some will like an overripe banana, most like a banana at a mid-stage of ripeness which is yellow," Mr Thomas said.

"It's pretty difficult to sell a black banana."

That's despite spotty, discoloured and even blackened bananas, in most cases, still being absolutely fine to eat. They can, in fact, be sweeter than your average yellow 'nana.

Woolies has come up with a solution to bypass the peccadillos of picky shoppers. If customers won't snap up a spotty banana, the store will.

From today, the 700 or so Woolworths stores with in-store bakeries will begin using the unsold bananas from the produce section to make fresh banana bread.

"Our in-store bakery teams will work with the fruit and vegetable teams to put aside any overripe bananas that haven't been purchased by customers," said Mr Thomas, who is Woolies' head of bakery.

Customers tend to choose yellow bananas with no spots or discolouration, leaving perfectly edible but less visually appealing bananas behind.
Customers tend to choose yellow bananas with no spots or discolouration, leaving perfectly edible but less visually appealing bananas behind.

He said the idea came from one of his own category managers when they were brainstorming ways to reduce food waste. Staff will now snaffle from the shelves the fruit that the stores know from experience won't be bought by customers.

"When the bananas start to blacken and gain spots we will look for them. We will then peel, mash and mix the product and bake it to make fresh banana bread."

The banana bread will come in a plain variety and with Cadbury chocolate chips.

All Woolworths supermarkets have food waste initiatives in place in which unsold produce and other goods are given to organisations such as OzHarvest and Foodbank that in turn distribute it to the needy. Some food also goes to farms and zoos.

Last year, the firm said it diverted more than 55,000 tonnes of food from landfill and enabled more than 10 million meals to be given to needy Australians.

But the priority is to sell the food that's there - and that's a problem with bananas. Once they start to turn, they can be difficult to shift, even to charities.

"The challenge with overripe bananas is while food waste charities accept the produce, by the time the bananas get through the food chain to disadvantaged people they are well past their best, so making banana bread is a better outcome," Mr Thomas said.

Woolies’ new banana bread will be made in store from the bananas picky customers reject. Picture: Dallas Kilponen
Woolies’ new banana bread will be made in store from the bananas picky customers reject. Picture: Dallas Kilponen

NOT ABOUT VISUAL APPEARANCE

Each banana bread loaf sold will include a 50c donation to Oz Harvest that Mr Thomas said would be a "good way of continuing to support those good causes".

Shoppers in surveys have said they are open to buying misshapen, discoloured or otherwise imperfect produce. But the reality on the ground is when presented with a perfect-looking piece of fruit and one that is less so, most shoppers will plump for the one that looks top notch.

Supermarkets have found ways around this. Cutting the price of imperfect product is one tactic, so it disguising it - like in banana bread - or even making a selling point of it like Woolies has done with its "Odd Bunch" range of misshapen or undersized produce.

"While we're doing lots of things to repurpose our food waste, such as the Odd Bunch which has done a great job of changing perceptions, there's a consumer education piece which is that it's not always about visual appearance," Mr Thomas said.

"Our job is to highlight that produce that is imperfect in one form can be perfect in another."

Last year, Woolworths also made a limited-edition beer called Loafer that used surplus bread as an ingredient.

Woolworths has enjoyed success with its Odd Bunch-branded knobbly veg.
Woolworths has enjoyed success with its Odd Bunch-branded knobbly veg.

BUT IS BANANA BREAD REALLY BREAD?

Yesterday, Coles said it would loosen its visual appearance specifications on produce from bushfire-affected producers in a bid to help farmers recover.

That was welcomed by Queensland Minister for Agricultural Mark Furner.

"Mangoes may have a few marks, apples may be a little smaller, but it's important of consumers to know that even if fresh produce doesn't look absolutely perfect, it still tastes just as good," he said.

Far from turning their noses up at the sweet treat being made from very ripe bananas, Mr Thomas said he expected Woolworths customers to embrace it.

"As any home cook would tell you, you usually look for overripe fruit for banana bread," he said.

"You can take it to quite an advanced stage of ripeness. We can hang onto the bananas for a good few days after they would normally be unsold and sent away from our stores."

But where does Mr Thomas stand on the age-old question as to whether banana bread is actually bread or cake?

The Woolies bakery boss said it could be whatever you wanted it to be, but how you ate it was the clincher.

"If you spread butter on it, it's bread. If you eat it straight out of a packet, it's cake," he said.

Staff will pick the brown bananas, peel and mash them and turn them into fresh banana bread. Picture: Dallas Kilponen.
Staff will pick the brown bananas, peel and mash them and turn them into fresh banana bread. Picture: Dallas Kilponen.


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