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Report: A Third of All Food Goes to Waste

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Don’t throw out the other half of that sandwich! According to a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, one third of all food produced globally is either lost or wasted.

trash.jpgThe report notes that both developed and undeveloped countries share the blame, with developed countries guilty of “wasting” food after it’s hit shelves and undeveloped countries “losing” food during or after harvest due to poor infrastructure.

In countries like the United States, consumers and retailers are both responsible for throwing out perfectly edible food. Supermarkets, the report opined, place too much emphasis on appearance, especially with perishable items like produce, discarding anything that doesn’t meet cosmetic standards.

“Surveys show that consumers are willing to buy produce not meeting appearance standards as long as it is safe and tastes good,” noted the report.

I’m not so sure about that. Shoppers don’t comb through baskets of apples looking for the bruised ones — they instinctively equate appearance with quality. Retailers know that, and in this competitive industry they aren’t about to start stocking mealy fruit or mushy vegetables.

On the other hand, they can address the report’s other recommendation, that companies donate and repurpose leftover items. I wrote a recent post about Albertson’s in California, which launched an initiative called “Fresh Rescue” that’s donating leftover food to more than 100 area food banks. Other retailers have launched similar initiatives.

The report also stated that food companies entice consumers to buy more food than they need with promotions like “buy two, get the third free”. Which is true, but it’s worth noting promotions like this can also decrease waste when shoppers buy and eat, say, three apples instead of two. There are also innovative new approaches within the format, like the “Buy One Get One Free – Later” promotion that Tesco began back in 2009.

Food waste is a complicated issue. Yes, retailers are in the business of selling food and not saving it, but wasted food is wasted money. Retailers who are serious about the matter need to examine their internal systems to ensure maximum efficiency between what comes in and what goes out. And go ahead and educate shoppers along the way, even if it means selling a few less bins of jumbo cheese doodles.

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