hugh fearnley whittingstall morrisons

Morrisons has hit back at criticism from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste documentary and claimed it was committed to reducing food waste.

PR director Julian Bailey told The Grocer a number of positive initiatives to reduce waste had been left out of the show - which exposed waste levels of up to 40% at Norfolk-based parsnip supplier Tattersett Farm due to strict Morrisons specifications.

Bailey said a “lot of stuff didn’t appear on the programme”, particularly when Fearnley-Whittingstall met with him and Morrisons head of corporate responsibility Steve Butts in this week’s episode, including the full results of its trials and plans to extend the sale of ad-hoc class two veg to a more regular ‘ugly’ range consisting of potatoes, carrots, onions and parsnips next month.

“On a number of points the programme didn’t convey the whole picture,” he added. For example, the programme failed to explain that when Morrisons eventually reduced prices by 20-30% in a trial of wonky courgettes depicted in the programme, it sold roughly the same volume. A similar experiment with baking potatoes - also cut from the documentary - did not deliver the same uplift even with a discount. These were useful insights into the complexities of consumer behaviour, he added.

Bailey added that Morrisons took regular steps to relax specifications for class one and two fruit and veg in response to weather and crop events - most recently with a batch of less-ripe green pumpkins before Halloween due to a challenging season for growers.

Responding to claims made in the documentary that Morrisons had reneged on a promise to meet the Hammond family (owners of Tattersett Farm), he added that the retailer’s relationship with its supplier had been “complex”.

As a result of this, Morrisons had decided to decline the opportunity to be filmed with its supplier, Bailey said. “We felt it would be unprofessional to discuss what was a sensitive commercial relationship on TV.”

And on claims by the Hammond family - presented on air by Fearnley-Whittingstall to Bailey and Butts - that Morrisons had habitually changed orders for its parsnips at very short notice, Bailey said the retailer was “looking into it”.

While Morrisons would examine supplier relationships to “look at what can be learnt” from the documentary”an awful lot of work has been done to reduce food waste” since the programme was filmed earlier this year, including a commitment last week to supply all unsold food to charity.

In the meantime Tesco announced this week plans to pledge an extra 700,000 meals from its ambient distribution centres to Fareshare on top of an earlier pledge to donate one million meals made up of recently delisted products.

Sainsbury’s will unveil more details of the beneficiary of a £1m investment from its Waste Less, Save More initiative - to reduce household waste - at the start of next month. However in an appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe also suggested consumers may not buy wonky produce as they demanded “particular levels of quality”.

“There are no end of of visual cues [such as shape or texture] that customers will look at in judging the quality of a product.,” he said. “In the end if we dont sell quality products our customers will go elsewhere.”