California isn’t the only area to which regulations on food waste are coming.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration have partnered on the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative, the goal of which is to cut food waste by 50% by 2030. World Wildlife Fund is among the nonprofit organizations working to document and curb post-harvest waste in the produce sector through its “No Food Left Behind” reports published in 2018 and 2019.
“This is big, and this is what’s really going to help drive change along with the cost of disposal and the lack of infrastructure,” said Nikki Rodoni, founder and CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Measure to Improve. “It’s about taking a proactive approach to really understanding what’s coming in terms of regulatory landscape, and then also thinking about, when we create this product, thinking about the circular economy and thinking about the long term.”
Bronx, N.Y.-based Baldor Specialty Foods has gained a reputation as a company that prioritizes reducing food waste, particularly through its SparCs — scraps spelled backward — program that uses fruit and vegetable byproducts as juice or animal feed. Baldor has also partnered with local farms to sell imperfect produce items like carrots, onions and apples.
Thomas McQuillan, vice president of corporate strategy, culture and sustainability for Baldor, expressed excitement about the imperfect produce movement in particular.
“We really see a major shift in culture around acceptance of product that is imperfect, and I think that’s super exciting because it allows the farmer to bring a great portion of product to market, but also maybe they could use less resources in the production of food — grow in a smaller area, use less water, etc.,” McQuillan says.
Several other companies have also partnered with growers to take their off-spec produce and sell it fresh, including San Francisco-based Imperfect Foods (formerly Imperfect Produce) and Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest. Some traditional retailers also source imperfect items from supplier Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Robinson Fresh, which has created a Misfits brand for such products.
Other companies working to reduce food waste and add value for produce companies are Chicago-based Hazel Technologies and Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel Sciences, which offer treatments that increase shelf life, and Crisp, a new software-as-a-service platform designed to cut down on food waste by helping companies order more accurately.
McQuillan says he has seen a significant amount of interest throughout the produce industry about reducing waste as a whole, and he expressed optimism about the reduction of food waste as part of a larger conversation around regenerative agriculture.
“I’m very excited about the produce industry uniting to get behind this idea that we fully utilize all food that is grown in our country to feed human beings, feed animals, create energy and/or digestate to create our future soil system,” McQuillan says. “We have to make a deliberate effort to rebuild the soil in the U.S. and around the world ... and the number one amendment to do that is food.
“Instead of capturing food and co-mingling it with our waste stream, we need to separate post-consumer food or food that’s not consumable for whatever reason and convert it into that next-generation soil,” McQuillan says. “We should not be sending any food to landfills for any reason whatsoever, but rather utilizing it to power the creation of soil to grow our next generation of food.”