“America does not have a food shortage problem. America has a food distribution problem.”
Ben Simon, Food Recovery Network’s co-founder and executive director, made these remarks last week during a keynote speech at the Food Tank Summit in Washington. Other experts echoed that sentiment.
"31% of the food available for consumption…at the retail and consumer levels” in the U.S. was not eaten in 2010, Jean Buzby of the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture said to attendees of a panel on food waste, according to USDA estimates. “And that’s about 133 billion pounds,” she noted.
Not ‘one silver bullet’ solution
Meghan Stasz, senior director of sustainability at the Grocery Manufacturers Association and representing the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, told Food Dive there wasn’t just “one silver bullet” as the solution to food waste.
Stasz spoke of the complex food system. “Especially in the manufacturing side, we’re working at such scale that we have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference, and we do a very good job at feeding people all around the world, and so by continuing to listen to our consumers, to listen to our NGO partners, to listen to each other, to understand what consumers want and what the changing dynamic of our landscape is...we can really understand how to make a tremendous difference.”
Simon said in an interview, “I think for a lot of these major corporations, when they talk about CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives, Food Recovery Network would love for them to embrace food waste and food recovery as important objectives and metrics for being responsible corporate citizens.”
Packaging potential and the industry's future
One piece regarding the future of food sustainability is that of innovations in packaging. That continues to be a much-maligned topic in the industry, leaving both companies and consumers alike frustrated.
Stasz said that getting a handle on this problem is figuring out exactly “what the right solution is.”
“I want to take the time to do that and make sure we get it right," she said. "Because if we just change what is on our packaging and consumers are still confused, we have not helped the situation, right? So we want to get a better handle on consumer food waste data and also on consumer behavior and some of those issues.”
While innovations in packaging may seem futuristic, perhaps there are some that may be a more sensible fit for how the world is evolving.
As for the next big packaging innovation, for the U.S., Stasz said, “I think it's going to be packaging that reflects how households are changing...I think we’ll see more and more packaging that’s geared towards serving sizes and portion sizes and things like that for a smaller household, smaller family.” As for the “developing world,” she added, “I think we’ll see some real innovations in keeping food fresh longer."
“I think it’s a really exciting time to be working in the food industry,” Stasz also added. “We’re incredibly sophisticated supply chains and systems and businesses, and we have an ever-changing consumer and methods of production and methods of transportation and I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to do a tremendous amount, even more than we’re already doing, environmental, social, and business good.”