Solving the Food Waste Problem

Now, more than ever, the issue of food waste is top of mind for the food industry. Despite retailers, foodservice operators and manufacturers trying to tackle it head on, many challenges lurk around the corner. Despite this, innovative and impactful approaches abound to tackle this complex concern.

Manufacturers like PepsiCo are coming up with creative ways to handle food waste. In a PepsiCo blog, “From Trash to Treasure” (March 28), the company delves into some of its global efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle more waste from direct operations. In Turkey, two Frito-Lay plants reuse potato peels as Naturalis fertilizer and biogas, which produces 35% of the plants’ electricity. And in the U.S., Tropicana created a fertilizer from discarded orange peels, while the Pure Leaf production facility in Indianapolis transports and donates brewed tea leaves locally to help make organic mulch, compost and soil blends.

Barilla examines ways to address food waste in Canada in a recent blog, “Trending Now: Tackling Food Waste in Canada” (April 20). In that country, $31 billion worth of food – or about 40% – is wasted each year.

Meanwhile, retailers emphasized the importance of automated ingredient replenishment in reducing food spoilage in a survey from RELEX Solutions, “Growing and Sustaining Competitive Advantage in Grocery Retail” (May 19). Four-fifths of grocery retailers said fresh products were essential to their businesses, and over half were interested in the automated replenishment of ingredients.

While the annual value of spoilage for these companies was about $70 million, and much more for the largest companies, using forecast-based automatic store replenishment usually led to spoilage reductions of 10% to 30%.

The “Retail Food Waste Action Guide” by ReFED brings up some of the challenges that come with curbing food waste. For example, making necessary changes to the supply chain and in stores is a complex task, while some solutions, like standardized date labeling and packaging adjustments, benefit the consumer more than the retailer.

But retailers are pushing ahead, and many, like Kroger, are experimenting with using imperfect produce to help minimize food waste. In 2015, Walmart and Sam’s Club joined with suppliers to convert to a “best if used by” date label on their privately branded products. Today, over 92% of these products are in compliance. Other strategies that retailers can use are still in their beginning stages, like reduced handling, meal kits, dynamic pricing and markdowns, and direct-to-customer delivery.

Retailers can localize food donations, since health regulations vary by city and state. Enhanced demand forecasting and dynamic routing can help them to better forecast what food will be available for donation. Leading retailers are also allowing more frequent pick-ups from more food recovery organizations to ensure that unsold food is put to use, and are making efforts to build in-store employee engagement concerning food donations.

And while current recycling rates for retailers are only at an estimated 10%, they can improve upon this by looking at the economics of regional recycling vs. landfilling. For instance, the cost of energy in the Northeast and Northwest makes centralized anaerobic digestion, a process that converts organic carbon to biogas, more attractive. Retailers can ease into recycling by investing in innovations like new packaging and depackaging technologies.

Next, the foodservice category could generate a minimum of $1 billion in cost savings by adopting just food waste tracking and analytics alone, according to the “Foodservice Food Waste Action Guide.” Smaller plates and trayless dining can also help minimize food waste. To engage guests, Google has partnered with LeanPath to monitor exactly how much post-consumer food is being discarded, and then relay that information back to diners.

Roughly 73% of recycling opportunity for foodservice is expected to come from centralized composting and centralized anaerobic digester facilities, and on-site processing, cooking oil recycling and using food waste as animal feed can also be considered. With this, site managers, especially in rural areas, can identify and talk to local farmers and animal sanctuaries about potential direct outlets for captured waste.

Although the food waste issue is not an easy one to address, I am confident the food industry is up for the challenge.