Photo credit: gemma / Unsplash

Cutting down food loss and food waste: 3 retail stories

September 23, 2020

Editor’s note: Ramakrishnan M is vice president of sales and marketing at Intello Labs, New Delhi, India. [Disclosure: Intello Labs graduated from GROW, the agrifoodtech impact accelerator backed by AFN’s parent company AgFunder.]


Over a third of all food produced in the world goes to waste. That loss doesn’t merely inflate prices. It frivolously uses up natural resources – resources we are hard-pressed for already.

While any business can fight food loss and waste, it is large corporations that can be the catalyst for change. That’s not because where the giants go, the rest follow; but because they stand in a unique position to influence the entire supply chain.

Nestlé tries to achieve zero waste through several steps. It transforms waste material (eg, unsold coffee beans) into value-added food products (eg, instant coffee). It identifies the most significant areas of loss in its supply chain (palm oil, cereals, dairy, fruit and vegetable) and works on them. And it educates customers on how to counter food waste.

Dole is on a warpath against waste and plans to eliminate all food loss in its operations. It ‘upcycles’ fruit not suitable for sale into drinks and snacks. It installed precision equipment in a processing facility and saved “over one million pounds of raw vegetable material.” It diverts culled vegetable matter from landfills to compost pits and turns the biomass into electricity. It’s even planning to transform pineapple skins into packaging.


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Kellogg’s has a post-harvest loss reduction program and its ‘Breakfasts for Better Days’ program, and recycles rejected cornflakes into beer to cut down food loss.

PepsiCo tackles food wasted in transit by sourcing the fruits and vegetables it requires for its many products locally, going as far as creating a sustainable farming program to achieve this.

Moving on from food manufacturers and processors, what are large-scale food retailers doing in this space? As we approach International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on September 29, let’s take a look at three of the world’s biggest.

Tesco

The UK supermarket chain is lauded as the first retailer in the country to be transparent about how much food it wastes. It first took the step to publish that data in 2013. Since then, it has reached 81% of “its target that no food safe for human consumption goes to waste.”

Here’s how Tesco saves food from going down the drain:

  • Accepts produce from growers and farmers even where it doesn’t meet cosmetic quality standards. Tesco markets these fruits and vegetables under their Perfectly Imperfect range.
  • Partnership with FareShare, a food redistribution charity, to donate all surplus food from its stores to 7,000-plus charities and community groups.
  • Set up Colleague Shops. These dedicated storage areas and fridges allow Tesco employees to buy any food that has reached either its ‘best-before’ or ‘use-by’ date at extra-low prices.
  • Built a Waste NOT range where surplus fruit like apples and watermelon that don’t meet usual specifications are processed into cold-pressed juices.
  • Created and sells HYKE, a gin made from surplus table grapes. The gin helped save around 166 million grapes.

To understand how Tesco has eliminated the need to send any food to landfills since 2009, you need to grasp its profound commitment to battling food waste. And the biggest example is its baked goods.

Any fresh bread that remains unsold sees a price reduction to push more sales. What is left is sent to charities or diverted to Colleague Shops. And if there are still some stragglers, they’re converted into animal feed.

Carrefour

The French retail multinational believes zero-waste is not a utopian dream and is aiming to reduce its food waste by 50% in the next five years. By last year, it had already recovered food waste by almost 68% and cut food loss by close to 10%.

Here’s how Carrefour has been working on saving food losses:

  • It revised best-before or use-by dates, or scrapped them altogether for 500-plus products. With that single step, it prevented customers from throwing away perfectly usable food items.
  • Any product with damaged packaging, incorrect labeling, or nearing its expiry date is donated to food banks. In 2019 alone, Carrefour donated to over 1,000 charities amounting to 105 million meals.
  • Launched the Tous Antigaspi (‘Everybody anti-waste’) range in France for products with irregular appearances. From mini dry sausages to camembert, these slightly defective items — that still taste good — are sold at a 30% to 40% discount. A similar range called “únicos” is sold in Carrefour Brazil.
  • Partnered with Too Good To Go to sell baskets of items a day or two before their expiry dates. These baskets push food that may end up as waste by reducing almost 70% of the total price. As of 2019, Carrefour has already sold 11.2 million baskets, saving 2,374 tonnes of unsold food.

To reach its zero-waste target, Carrefour practices a circular economy approach. Any unsold fruits and vegetables that can’t be donated are disposed of as biowaste, which is transformed into methane that is used as a biofuel for its transport trucks.

Ikea

The home furnishings retailer seems like an awkward choice for talking about food loss. It isn’t. Beyond furniture, Ikea runs restaurants and bistros in its stores across the world.

Three years back, the Swedish company launched Food is Precious. The initiative was intended to cut food waste by 50% by August 2020. Well aware that their expertise lay elsewhere, they aligned with tech companies to attain the goal. These include:

  • Winnow, a firm that cuts food waste in the hospitality sector. Ikea installed Winnow Vision, an AI-based tech, in its kitchens. This ‘smart scale’ weighed and recorded food thrown away each day. It also identified the top three dishes wasted daily, enabling staff to find ways to lessen the volume of these dishes.
  • LeanPath, another firm preventing food waste in kitchens. Similar to Winnow Vision, LeanPath’s food waste tracking system helped Ikea measure waste and identify the root causes, such as spoilage and excess production.
  • Enrich360, based in Australia. Using its Food Waste Dehydrator, Ikea converts leftover food into biomass and water. The nutrient-rich fuel is used as fertilizer on farms that supply fruits and vegetables to the company.

Within one year of installing the LeanPath system, Ikea’s food waste was minimized by 30%. Combined with Winnow, it has saved over 2.3 million kilograms of food over two years. The example of Ikea proves that tools and technology go a long way to cutting food waste.

Businesses, especially those in the food value chain, wield sizable market power. They can address global food loss and food waste concerns at multiple levels. Who else will lead this change?

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