Telling all: the new strategy to talk about food waste

02/18/2014 03:54:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstWill revelations of how much food is wasted by retailers generate goodwill or disgust toward supermarkets?

Such a question is not theoretical after news from the UK that the country’s biggest grocers will reveal the volume of food discarded by their stores. The retailers also will apparently pledge to reduce carbon emissions on a multi-front campaign to capture the mantle of sustainability.

Tesco earlier grabbed headlines when it said last year that in the first six months of 2013, 21% of Tesco UK food waste tonnage was produce, only topped by bakery. Tesco said that only about 1% of produce waste occurs at retail, with much more waste occurring at homes.

Bagged salad, for example, experiences a cumulative food waste of 68% - 17% in the field, 15% in processing, 1% at retail, and 35% at the consumer level.

 According to the story in The Guardian, the British Retail Consortium will soon announce that the top four supermarkets - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons (plus a couple more retailers) - will give regular updates on food wasted in their stores. The first data will be published in 2015, according to the report.

 No announcement yet on the BRC website just yet.

 What about the U.S. and the issue of food waste? Well, it has been a topic of discussion before.

Check out the 2012 NRDC study on U.S. food waste here and the 2013 UN report on food waste here.

I doubt if the U.S. will have a unified retail approach to the issue of food waste, at least anytime soon. Perhaps one or two retailers will pick up the issue and move the ball forward. On a practical note, Wal-Mart has funded research to reduce strawberry waste.

Aside from the commendable impulse to study this issue to glean efficiencies, do readers think that mandatory reporting of food waste at retail will produce any positive results, either for consumers or the fresh produce supply chain? 



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Rod Averbuch    
Chicago IL  |  February, 18, 2014 at 07:04 PM

The large amount of food waste is a lose-lose situation for the environment, the struggling families in today’s tough economy and for the food retailers. We should address the food waste problem in every link in our food supply chain. For example, the excess inventory of perishable food items close to their expiration on supermarket shelves causes waste. The consumer “Last In First Out” shopping behavior might be one of the weakest links of the fresh food supply chain. Why not utilize the new open GS1 DataBar standard to encourage efficient consumer shopping by offering him automatic and dynamic purchasing incentives for perishables approaching their expiration dates before they end up in a landfill? The “End Grocery Waste” application, which is based on the open GS1 DataBar standard, encourages efficient consumer shopping behavior that maximizes grocery retailer revenue, makes fresh food affordable for all families and effectively reduces the global carbon footprint. You can look this application up at EndGroceryWaste site. Rod, Chicago, IL

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  February, 19, 2014 at 08:51 AM

Rod, I like the idea of dynamic purchasing incentives for for perishables. Thanks for your comment;it makes a lot of sense. I wonder if the incentives for a retailer are strong enough for a plan like you describe. for example, do retailers get partial credit from supplier for expired food? Tom K

Rod Averbuch    
Chicago IL  |  February, 19, 2014 at 01:23 PM

Hi Tom, There is a great retailer benefit in using this application as described in the EndGroceryWaste.com under the Business Case tab, which is based on data from IBM presentation. In some cases the retailer gets only partial small credit for the wasted food in other cases they don’t. As described in the site the new open GS1 DataBar standard (since Jan 2014) enables this automatic application. Manual approach is too costly for the retailers. Best Regards, Rod

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