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One way Canadians are shrinking rising grocery bills

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As the cost of food in Canada has risen, grocery shoppers are looking at ways to reduce their grocery bill, and more are choosing price over beauty, turning to companies that deliver so-called "misfit" produce at a fraction of the cost.

One of those companies is Odd Bunch, which works with producers and distributers in southern Ontario to rescue fruit and vegetables with cosmetic imperfections.

Odd Bunch has grown steadily since it was started two years ago, but in the past month, they’ve seen a surge in web traffic and new subscribers, which co-founder Divyansh Ojha attributes partly to growing frustration with big grocers and the Loblaw boycott that started at the beginning of May.

"People have been more aware and consciously starting to look around, rather than just accepting the closest grocery store to them or the first price that they see," Ojha says.

The company has several box sizes with contents that change week-to-week depending on what’s available. This week’s "small box" included potatoes (one was flat), apples (too small), blackberries (miscoloured), romaine lettuce (oddly shaped) and perfectly good asparagus. Ojha estimates the box contains between $45-$60 worth of produce at a cost of $20.

"We thought if we can create a platform which leverages the odds and ends of the industry and reduces the price and delivers it directly to the consumer we’d have a chance at reducing food waste and lowering food prices," Ojha says.

Rescuing food is not a new concept and has been done for decades, but more companies have been springing up recently in response to inflation and high food prices.

Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue charity and has been redirecting surplus food to those in need since 1985.

The total value of wasted or lost food in Canada is roughly $49 billion a year, according to estimates by the National Zero Waste Council. But that doesn’t take into account the cost to store, transport and dispose of that food. With all that included, food waste is believed to be more than $100 billion a year.

The United Nations says if food waste was reduced by just 25 per cent globally, there could be enough food to feed all food-insecure people.

In Canada, all levels of government along with the corporate sector are looking at ways to reduce food waste, but the problem involves interconnected supply chains that stretch around the globe.

Walmart Canada has a goal of zero food waste by 2025, while Loblaws is aiming for the same target by 2030. Costco’s aim is to divert 80 per cent of its waste from landfills.

Not only is reducing food waste environmentally friendly, it’s financially prudent as well.

"Without that waste our general profits can be maintained," says Jonathan Moreno, who works for Stronach and Sons 2020, a food distributer. When distributors are able to offload "misfit" produce, it protects profits, and those savings can be passed to clients.

For many consumers, a deformed cucumber or imperfect orange is well worth the savings.

"I think we are being priced out of living," says Semi George, an Odd Bunch customer who switched to the company is November. She says she was only buying the necessities when it came to fruits and vegetables, but now can afford more variety on a smaller budget.

"We need more competition," George says. "People need to have more choices. We want to be able to live, we want to be able to eat."

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