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Confronting Food Waste

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The food industry knows that “going green” oftentimes means “slimming down”. That’s why in recent years companies have reduced packaging, cut down on the miles they transport products, and lowered their energy use.

Which is all well and good, but there’s a lot more to be done. As the industry works its way to the center of the issue, it’ll likely encounter another area of the business in need of trimming: the food itself.

foodwaste.jpgFood waste includes everything from table scraps to whole products that go bad or get thrown out. It’s anything edible that goes unused, at any point along the food chain, from producers to retailers to consumers. According to a recent study, 1,400 calories of food per person goes to waste each day in this country — a 50% increase since 1974.

Food waste isn’t something most retailer think about. It’s difficult to track and quantify, and it’s not something that’s easily explained. Tell your customers you’re stocking less food, and you may have a rebellion on your hands.

But this doesn’t make it any less of a problem, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t innovative ways out there to address it. Take what Tesco’s doing, for example. The British retailer recently announced it will offer a Buy One Get One Free – Later promotion, where instead of getting their second item when they purchase the first, customers can take a voucher and redeem it later, when they will actually need the product. That works especially well for perishable products like milk and eggs, which might go bad in the time it takes to go through the first purchase.

American supermarkets have a history of donating their excess to food banks and shelters. That’s a good first step, and one they can easily build on. Why not increase donation sizes and tell shoppers about it? How about setting up compost bins? Better yet, tackle the problem at its root by examining internal systems to make sure you’re not ordering too much food, and that your suppliers aren’t making too much of it.

As with other green measures, this one has financial as well as environmental benefits. Wasted food is wasted money, after all. And money is something any retailer would love to have in abundance.

(photo courtesy of sporkist)

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