3 Initiatives to Cut Food Waste in Supermarket Supply Chain

Basket of rotten apples. Background of dirty apples with varying degrees of decay.

Food waste is on the mind of every responsible grocer these days — as it should be. The recently released report “A Roadmap to Reduce Food Waste by 20 Percent” from ReFED throws a spotlight on the problem and proposes a number of solutions, many of which can be implemented at the store and supplier level.

The scope of the problem

A cooperative effort of more than 30 businesses, nonprofit organizations, foundations and government leaders, ReFED aims to use technology, business, policy innovation, philanthropy and investment capital to tackle the issue of food waste in the U.S. The numbers the organization shares in its report are compelling:

  • When you add up all the food that gets landfilled each year, the amount left unharvested on farms or thrown away on farms and in packing houses, and food fit for human consumption that still gets composted, converted to animal feed or otherwise thrown away, America wastes about 40 percent of all the food we produce — about 62.5 million tons of food.
  • About 1.3 percent of the country’s GDP ($218 billion) gets wasted on growing, processing and transporting food that never gets eaten.
  • Eighty five percent of all food waste comes from consumer-facing businesses and homes.
  • Supermarkets, grocery stores and distribution centers account for 8 million tons of the total wasted each year.

In a grocery setting, breakage, damage, spoilage and consumer preferences drive the amount of food that gets wasted each year. Grocery retailers and suppliers committed to doing their part to reduce food waste face many challenges. In addition to improving supply chain efficiencies, it will also be necessary to change consumer perceptions of what constitutes usable food.

Workable solutions

ReFED’s report addresses virtually every aspect of the food waste problem and offers concrete solutions for each. The report’s insights on consumer-facing businesses are particularly relevant to the grocery industry. ReFed rightly notes that consumer demand for variety, freshness and consistency presents challenges for stores and suppliers trying to manage inventory and food purchasing while still delivering on customer expectations of their brand.

Packaging

Packaging is an important area where grocery retailers and suppliers could significantly impact food waste in their operations, ReFED says. Right now, foods such as prepared fresh deli items, meats, produce, seafood, eggs, milk and dairy account for 80 percent of perishable food waste. ReFED advocates “using active, intelligent packaging to prolong product freshness and slow down spoilage of perishable fruit and meat.”

Transit

However, ReFED’s report doesn’t address the amount of perishable food that gets wasted because it is damaged in transit from the supplier to the store, or while being offloaded from trucks and transported to aisle and display cases. As a grocery retailer or supplier, you know firsthand that poor packaging can increase shrinkage, while better transporting packaging, like Reusable Plastic Containers, can reduce the amount of product wasted in transit.

Consumer Education

Another area where grocers can impact waste is in consumer education. Each year, tons of food get wasted because consumers don’t think the products are pretty enough to eat, or are confused by label dates. Helping consumers rethink their view of what food is usable and desirable will reduce waste, while increasing a grocery store’s profits.

ReFED suggests stores can reduce waste by marketing imperfect produce at discounted prices. The report suggests grocers conduct “large-scale consumer advocacy campaigns to raise awareness of food waste and educate consumers about ways to save money and reduce wasted food.” This could be as basic as standardizing food labeling so consumers have a better understanding of when food truly becomes unusable, or as creative as hosting a cooking event to show customers how to use imperfect produce to create great meals.

Reducing food waste is everyone’s job — and to everyone’s benefit. How is your operation working to improve efficiency and curtail food waste? Tell us in the comments section.