BUSINESS
07/20/2016 03:10 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2016

This Food Waste Activist Finally Got A Closed-Door Meeting With Walmart

It didn't go as planned.

Food waste activist Jordan Figueiredo arrived at Walmart’s corporate headquarters on Wednesday to deliver a petition with 140,000 signatures that asks the retail giant to help combat food waste by selling more imperfect produce.

It didn’t exactly go as he had hoped.

Figueiredo, along with nutritionist and food writer Stefanie Sacks, started a Change.org petition in March to push Walmart “to combat food waste by marketing ugly produce with an educational and fun campaign.” The Huffington Post has been supporting the effort since the launch of its Reclaim editorial campaign

He arrived at the meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas, with boxes full of petition signatures and examples of healthy but aesthetically imperfect produce that would not be sold under Walmart’s current standards.

“There’s no arguing that [Walmart is] the largest seller of retail groceries and produce in the U.S.... and they’re the ‘low-cost leader,’ that’s their own motto,” Figueiredo said before his meeting, while replying to questions from HuffPost readers via Facebook Live.

Because imperfect produce typically sells for 30 percent to 50 percent less than regular produce, Walmart increasing its inventory of ugly fruits and vegetables would be “a win-win for everybody involved,” he added. “They can lead the way and really open this market.”

Ultimately, Figueiredo said the three Walmart employees he met with did not seem receptive to the proposed campaign to sell a wide range of imperfect produce.

“These guys were not denying the food waste statistics or that imperfect produce is an issue,” he said. “But they insisted that their produce suppliers don’t even have the excess product that isn’t hitting shelves. Which seems just incorrect, to me.”

Walmart does not comment on specific meetings with individuals, a company spokesman said after the discussion. 

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Join thousands of Americans calling on Walmart to help reduce food waste by mounting a comprehensive campaign to sell "ugly" fruit and vegetables.
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 A Rebuttal

Figueiredo said Walmart representatives cited their recent forays into selling imperfect produce as evidence that it is already taking steps to address food waste. It has started selling “wonky produce” at Asda, its British retailer, and has put ugly potatoes from Texas, or “Spuglies,” on shelves in U.S. stores. The company also announced this week that it would start selling imperfect apples from Washington state.

Figueiredo has described these efforts as important first steps, but generally inadequate given the scale of the issue. 

“Walmart’s recent statements about ending food waste show they’re listening to consumers and food policy experts, but unwilling to take serious steps to act on the request in our petition,” he told HuffPost before the meeting.

He also described the apple and potato initiatives as “one-off” instances, since weather conditions created those specific batches. Therefore, he said, those programs aren’t really making a dent in the long-term supply of imperfect produce. 

A Food and Agriculture Organization report found that we wasted nearly 26 percent of all produce harvested in North America as of 2011. This is due, at least in part, to grocery stores’ “cosmetic standards,” according to Figueiredo ― the Department of Agriculture has guidelines for the sale of produce but ultimately, each retailer has a lot of free choice in the matter. 

Food activist Jordan Figueiredo holds a box full of petition signatures of outside Walmart headquarters in Bentonville,
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Food activist Jordan Figueiredo holds a box full of petition signatures of outside Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

 A Hopeful Precedent

Last year, Sacks and Figueiredo used a similar petition to ask Whole Foods to start selling imperfect produce. Whole Foods ultimately did so, but it didn’t happen all at once.

“My first conversation with Whole Foods executives was not awesome,” Figueiredo said. “But I did manage to turn over the issue to my friends at the group Imperfect Produce, who eventually convinced them to start selling ugly fruits and vegetables five months later.”

He said he’s hopeful that something similar could happen with Walmart down the road.

The Change.org petition cites several examples of grocery stores that have launched successful campaigns or pilot programs to sell imperfect produce : Intermarche in France, Loblaws in Canada, Sainsbury’s in the U.K. and Giant Eagle in the U.S.

Figueiredo focused his latest effort on Walmart because it has more than 4,500 stores in the U.S. alone, and is thus poised make a huge impact if it implements a company-wide policy on selling imperfect produce.

Selling ugly produce at a discounted price would also help meet the needs of the 1 in 5 Americans who receive food stamps. Many of these people are produce- and nutrient-deficient

Figueiredo has no plans to give up the fight against Walmart, even though next steps are not immediately apparent. Just minutes after his meeting, he was already on his way to hand out flyers about his campaign in downtown Bentonville. He’s also scheduled to speak about his campaign this weekend, during Ozy Fusion Fest in New York City’s Central Park.

“The ball is in Walmart’s court now,” he said. “But I’m definitely not hanging up my hat.”

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BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
"Ugly" Vegetables
CONVERSATIONS