Where does the grocery industry stand on food waste initiatives?
There’s no hiding the fact that food waste in the US is a staggeringly large issue. The USDA estimates that 30% to 40% of the country’s food supply goes to waste, with 31% of food loss occurring at the consumer and retail level. What’s more, a recent study found that grocery shoppers often overestimate the amount of fresh food they will consume, with 97% saying they would eat all their meat but only 50% finishing it.
According to an analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity, only three of the top 10 US grocers have made commitments to achieve zero food waste by 2025, including Kroger, Ahold Delhaize and Walmart. Other grocers have made less ambitious commitments to reducing food waste, while others still lack such commitments and transparency about tracking and prevention strategies.
While some food retailers lag behind on food waste initiatives, others are finding creative and effective ways to combat the issue. In Finland, for example, grocery chain S-market offers a food “happy hour” where products that are hours away from their expiration date are marked down 60%.
Meanwhile, Walmart has taken several steps toward reducing food waste, including switching to “Best if Used By” labels to prevent confusion and food being prematurely thrown out. The retailer also figured out a way to consolidate cartons with broken eggs instead of throwing the whole package out, which resulted in 37 million eggs being saved from the landfill in the span of one year.
Meijer recently introduced an app at a handful of stores that allows customers to purchase heavily discounted meat, produce, seafood, deli and bakery products that are close to expiring. Customers can check the app for available items and pay for those items directly on the app.
“Food is at the core of what we do, and we are constantly looking at ways to minimize in-store waste because it’s the right thing to do for our communities and our customers,” said Meijer’s Don Sanderson in a company press release.
Kroger’s ongoing Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative lays out clear goals and means of meeting those goals, including donating unused food from physical stores and educating employees and customers about reducing food waste. An awareness program in Lewisburg, Tenn., helped one particular Kroger store increase its diversion rate from 49% in 2017 to 73% in 2018.
On a larger scale, the Environmental Protection Agency, USDA and FDA recently joined forces with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance to set a 2030 food waste reduction goal. The FWRA, which is led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association, entered into the agreement to educate a wide range of partners within the food industry, share best practices and increase awareness of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act to encourage food recovery and donation.
“Despite the important progress that has been made in increasing donations and diverting waste from landfill, we must continue to learn from each other to forge new alliances and create and implement best practices,” said Leslie Sarasin, FMI president and CEO, in a news release.
A streamlined approach to date labels on packaged foods has also won the support of the FDA. Backed by GMA and FMI, the initiative calls for simpler language, including “Best If Used By,” to avoid consumer confusion and unnecessary food waste.
“Two years ago, GMA and the Food Marketing Institute brought together 25 companies to find a solution to reduce the consumer confusion that resulted in unintended food waste,” said GMA President and CEO Geoff Freeman in a statement. “Our solution was a streamlined approach to date labeling that has been recognized by USDA and now FDA as a smart approach and an important step in alleviating confusion and reducing food waste.”
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