Food Waste: Breaking the Chain

As annual food loss and waste grows, U.S. foodservice chains and restaurant operators are increasingly committing themselves to breaking the cycle.

A Boston Consulting Group report noted that it will be a 2.1-billion ton issue, worth $1.5 trillion, by 2030. The researchers noted companies can address the issue by investing in cold chain supply systems, adopting digital technology to minimize loss and waste, improving collaboration between agricultural producers and food processors, and advocating for changes to regulations and tax policies.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A is certainly doing its part to combat food loss and waste, with approximately 750 of the chain’s more than 1,600 freestanding restaurants actively donating 643,000 meals year to date, says Dawn Rhodes, who leads the company’s corporate social responsibility efforts. To achieve this, the restaurant chain implemented programs like LEAN and Shared Table, which emphasize reducing waste and donating unused food to those in need. The reasons for this are there are income tax savings through the Enhanced Food Donation Tax Credit, and, importantly, it resonates with employees who are pleased to see the food serve a good purpose.

The emotional tie-in that employees, especially Millennials and Gen Zs, have with food waste reduction programs is a sign of the times and helps give the initiative momentum.

“Reducing food waste is efficient, and also shows employees that the companies they work for are aligned with their personal values; they want to reduce hunger and their environmental impact,” says National Restaurant Association sustainability director Jeff Clark.

ReFED, a nonprofit based on food waste prevention, hopes the work of foodservice companies like Aramark Corp., Chick-fil-a and BlueCart will help create a blueprint for the rest of the industry on how each individual organization can enact its own measures to solve the larger problem.

Aramark’s initiatives to minimize food waste include Green Thread, in which the company intends to reduce its environmental impact through the reuse and recycling of food and other waste before it’s generated and after by donating food, followed by producing animal feed and compost. Josh Scarbriel, Aramark’s business process director of food productivity, says the firm’s goal is to send as little waste as possible to landfills.

“We focus on simple steps that make measurable impacts,” Scarbriel says.

When BlueCart launched in 2014, its purpose was to provide restaurants with a user-friendly online procurement tool, but cofounder Konstantin Zvereff soon realized an unintended benefit – food loss and waste prevention. Clients could order what they needed when they needed it and track patterns to avoid surplus, which took the guess work out of the ordering equation.

“Restaurants didn’t have to order three cases of tomatoes or leafy greens to be sure they had enough for a week,” says Zvereff, reported Waste360 (Aug. 9). “They didn’t have to wait until Tuesday to let their supplier know they need green beans. They could chat live and send messages appended to their orders.”

Set on capitalizing on these unplanned assets, BlueCart built in additional functionality for vendors after discovering that most waste is at the supplier level.

“Traditionally, they had no markets for things like imperfect cuts or broccoli stems,” Zvereff says. “And that’s where most food waste happens. Now, they can offer specials online. And they can track customers’ order frequency and their favorite items.”

The company is growing today by thousands of clients per month, and the foodservice venues and suppliers it works with have collectively reduced their food waste by 52%. The startup has also raised more than $22 million in about three years.

While the foodservice industry has dug its heels into the food waste issue, I’m hopeful this will inspire U.S. consumers to see that they all have a responsibility to do the same.