Muddy potatoes sold in Tesco for first time since 1970s - and you won't pay for the dirt

Dominic Penna
·3-min read
Sales of unwashed potatoes in supermarkets and grocery stores was common practice until the 1970s - Features Scans
Sales of unwashed potatoes in supermarkets and grocery stores was common practice until the 1970s - Features Scans

Muddy potatoes are to be sold in Tesco for the first time since the 1970s, but scales will be adjusted so that you only pay for spuds and not mud.

A new trial will see unwashed white potatoes sold across 262 Tesco supermarkets throughout the next six months.

The scheme, which could eventually be rolled out to all of the chain’s 2,650 shops, is being run alongside Lincolnshire-based potato suppliers Branston.

Sales of unwashed potatoes in supermarkets and grocery stores was common practice until the 1970s, as leaving the soil on would block out light and result in a longer shelf life.

Tesco and Branston say that the shelf lives of the potatoes used in the scheme so far have more than doubled, with an increase from five days to 11 days.

They have also worked out how much soil is on the average spud, and scales have been adjusted accordingly so that customers do not end up paying extra at the checkout.

It comes after a positive response to a pilot last November saw unwashed potatoes sold at Tesco stores in Bristol, where the chain says that customers were happy to purchase the products regardless of appearance.

The supermarket, which in 2013 became the first to reveal how much waste takes place as part of its operations, is hoping to gain a broader understanding of how consumers feel about buying muddy potatoes.

“Towards the end of the 1970s, supermarkets and greengrocers in general moved towards selling more cosmetically perfect produce and as a result, potatoes were washed before being put out on display,” said Rob Hooper, Tesco Produce’s lead technical manager.

“Last November we ran an initial trial at stores in Bristol and the surrounding areas to see how shoppers would respond and it was a success, so now we are widening this trial across the south of England.”

The unwashed potatoes retain their quality for longer because chlorophyll forms within the cells of potatoes that are exposed to light, and this gradually turns them green.

In this file photo taken on September 30, 2019 Signage is seen outside a Tesco Superstore in south London - Tolga Akmen/AFP
In this file photo taken on September 30, 2019 Signage is seen outside a Tesco Superstore in south London - Tolga Akmen/AFP

Tesco removed ‘Best Before’ dates from more than 180 of its fruit and vegetable lines in 2018, although this measure has not yet been extended to potatoes.

Less than a quarter of food safe for human consumption went to waste in its operations in the last financial year, although the supermarket is now aiming to become zero-waste.

Potatoes are the most commonly wasted food in the homes of British consumers, according to analysis by the charity WRAP.

“We are very pleased to see how Tesco are collaborating with their suppliers to tackle food waste and bring change to their shelves,” said Will McManus, WRAP’s sector specialist for fresh produce.

Seventy per cent of total food waste beyond the farm gate comes from the home, Mr McManus added, which makes a significant contribution to global emissions.

Bread, homemade food and even supermarket ready meals are also among the most wasted foodstuffs.

Asda reintroduced unwashed potatoes to its stores in December 2006 in order to extend their shelf lives, in a move that saw sales rise by more than 20 per cent.

Supermarkets have also avoided waste during lockdown by increasing sales of fresh potatoes throughout the last year. This has been done by taking on and selling bigger spuds that would normally end up being processed.