Woolworths CEO Defends Food Rejection Policies

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci has robustly defended the supermarket chain’s food rejection policies. He underscored that customers’ specific preferences, such as their aversion to oversized bananas, are the driving force behind these policies. This defence was articulated during a South Australian parliamentary inquiry into grocery prices, part of a series of investigations taking place across Australia, including one by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

During the inquiry, Committee Chair Robert Simms interrogated Mr. Banducci and Woolworths’ Chief Commercial Officer Paul Harker, who played a key role in addressing issues like food waste, supplier mark-ups, and rising grocery prices amidst increasing cost-of-living pressures.

Mr Banducci refuted allegations of excessive food dumping, stating that the company’s rejection rate is only about “1 to 1.5 percent.” He clarified, “We reject very little when it comes to our business, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rejected before it gets to us. There’s an opportunity there.” He acknowledged that significant food waste occurs on farms and households, identifying these as major areas for improvement.

Additionally, Mr. Banducci mentioned that rejected produce is redirected to needy families and farmers, although he did not specify the quantities allocated to each group.

Mr. Harker explained that product standards are based on eating quality and shelf life. “No one wants unripe strawberries or capsicums with mouldy centres,” he stated. Addressing the issue of banana size, he noted, “Many children and young people prefer bananas that aren’t too big. A banana around 30 centimetres is often too large to consume in one sitting, leading to more food waste at home.”

In response, Mr. Simms expressed surprise, suggesting that the public might be shocked to learn that large fruit is discarded. “I’m not sure most people would agree that a large piece of fruit poses a safety risk, but I’ll let others be the judge,” he remarked.

By framing the issue this way, Woolworths aims to balance customer preferences with efforts to reduce food waste and maintain product quality.
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