What do you do if up to a third of the apples you produce end up going to waste rather than on to supermarket shelves? If you’re Kent-based distributor Norman Collett, you convert that waste into a new range of apple juice, crisps, ice cream, compotes and cider, that’s what.
With waste costing businesses in the food and drink supply chain £5bn annually and supermarkets “squeezing growers at every opportunity,” commercial director Michael Joyles believes he’s found a way to simultaneously reduce waste and increase returns for his growers.
The distributor, which works in partnership with Kent growers to market and sell 20% of the UK’s top fruit crop, started rolling out the range last month. “We produce about 1,800 tonnes of Rubens apples a year. Of that, 1,200 tonnes will end up at the main multiples,” says Joyles. “The question has always been what to do with the rest of that fruit, which otherwise primarily goes to waste.”
Although a drop in the ocean compared with the distributor’s multimillion apple contracts with the likes of Tesco, Asda and Waitrose, the new range is already gaining traction. Booths currently sells the apple crisps (70p) and juice (£1.25-£1.50) across its 29 stores, while the cider will soon be stocked by Majestic. Other products are available through restaurants and independents. “The buyers of our biggest supermarket customers have all tasted the range and are impressed, but the issue at the moment is we are not creating enough Rubens to satisfy demand on that scale.”
“I see no reason why we can’t have a branded range of crisps with unique flavours from four or five different apples”
Samantha Jarvis, Norman Collett
That could soon change. Although the UK variety, which was first planted in 2008, is only worth £2m at the moment (compared with the £140m Pink Lady), it is expected to grow to £5m in the next few years with production trebling to 5,400 tonnes. This would allow a multiple to stock the ‘waste’ Rubens range nationwide. There are plenty of other apple varieties to consider, adds marketing manager Samantha Jarvis.
“Across the business, we waste over 4,000 tonnes of apples per year and produce 16 varieties, so the potential to expand this is enormous - this could create total synergy savings of £3m,” she says. “We are currently trialling products using the waste from other apple varieties and I see no reason why we can’t have a branded range of crisps with unique flavours from four or five different apples such as Gala and Discovery.”
It doesn’t stop at crisps and juices either. Jarvis says sausages and a cheese containing Rubens are in the works and that Norman Collett could also utilise its soft fruit waste.
It’s no surprise the initiative is attracting interest from competitors, something Joyles claims he welcomes. “There are already rivals looking to replicate what we are doing here, but if this has a ripple effect then that’s a good thing,” he says. “Too many supermarket buyers and shoppers are obsessed with colour and the shape of their fruit. With this, if we have a bad season the apples can still go into something worthwhile. There’s no reason why waste cannot create a lot of the NPD across the food and drink aisle.”
Something many growers would no doubt raise a glass of apple juice to.