- A study by Champions 12.3 that examined 1,200 business sites in 17 different countries found more than half earned $14 or more for every dollar spent curbing food waste, according to FERN News.
- The organization, which is a coalition of retailers, manufacturers, advocates and government entities, noted businesses lose a collective $940 billion annually on food waste. An estimated 8% of annual greenhouse gas emissions each year also come from food waste.
- Tesco, a retailer member of the coalition, said it is addressing food waste by working with produce growers on more efficient harvesting methods, and by doing away with buy-one-get-one-free offers. This encourages many consumers to buy more food than they can consume.
Supermarkets try to cultivate an image of freshness and abundance in their stores with unblemished stacks of produce and other perishables. It’s a tactic that generates a lot of sales, but also a lot of waste.
An estimated 10% of the food that hits store shelves every year goes to waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Consumers also contribute to waste with roughly one-third of the food they buy and prepare going uneaten.
Long a glaring problem, food waste is something retailers are beginning to address, both on the business and consumer ends. In 2011, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association established the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a coalition of manufacturers and retailers seeking to reduce food waste through recycling, charitable donations and other means. Recently, the organization developed a voluntary program that streamlined confusing date label terminology down to two common phrases.
Individual retailers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s also are doing more. Whole Foods’ employees sort food waste at the retailer, while Trader Joe’s last year donated more than $341 million worth of goods to food banks. Companies are investing in technology like anaerobic digesters and harvesters that convert food waste into energy.
These efforts are adding up, but the fact remains that most unsold or expired food still goes straight to landfills.
So why aren’t supermarkets doing more? The answer is complex. Tackling food waste is costly and time consuming. Just as different types of products require different handling methods to get to shelves, so do those that are removed and reused. And while harvesters, anaerobic digesters and other sustainable technologies are promising and effective, they’re too expensive for most retailers to adopt on more than a limited basis.
As the study from Champions 12.3 shows, there is a financial upside to effectively diverting and managing food waste. Whether it’s management practices that keep food on shelves longer, efficiencies that get products to stores quicker, supplier relationships to help make products better, or innovations that do all of the above, there are many new and emerging approaches to tackling the problem of food waste. Expect retailers to continue moving the dial on this issue in the coming years, especially if there is a financial incentive for them to.