As an individual living abroad, those huge outlets of supermarkets always fascinated me. However, a few trips to these supermarkets made me realise, they are designed in a way that customers spend maximum time in there and end up buying a lot more than what’s needed! If it all comes down to maximising profit, then what are supermarkets doing to tackle the issue of food waste. Turns out it is less than what you would expect. According to a report by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign, nine out of the ten largest grocery companies in the US fail to report their total volume of food waste publicly.
However, some companies are setting high standards and leading by example for others. The most popular one is TESCO, claiming that less than 1% of food gets wasted across their 6,553 stores serving 50 million shoppers every week. This, in turn, helped to remove 46,000 tonnes of food waste from circulation. TESCO also claims that no food from their supermarkets has found its way to landfill since 2009. They have donated 14.5 million meals by partnering with local food banks across Europe. The company launched a ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ campaign where they buy those not so perfect looking products from suppliers and sell them to consumers at highly competitive prices.
Co-Op food is another such retailer in the UK, which started selling food that was up to a month past its best-before date. In September 2015, Co-Op donated 50,000 tonnes of food to FareShare, which helped the organisation to provide 120,000 meals to those in need.
The question that arises now is, will it be enough? Let’s check out a few ways how small and big supermarkets can minimise food waste in their outlets.
Majority of the food consumers purchase gets thrown away due to confusion with the dates. Most consumers don’t understand the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates. Use by date usually states that the product would be dangerous to use after the date mentioned. Whereas ‘best before date’ just says that before the specified period, the food will be at its best. It doesn’t mean the food won’t be fit for consumption after the best before date. Supermarkets need to take measures to educate consumers regarding the difference between both. Many retailers like Walmart & TESCO are removing best before dates from their products to minimise wastage.
Use of Technology:
There are several startups providing food waste management software. It can help curb the amount of waste produced by supermarkets. For, eg. Spoiler Alert a US-based startup analyses waste and suggest tactics to reduce food waste. On the other hand, Walmart has launched its food waste program named Eden to save $2billion in five years. Supermarkets also need to use the latest technologies for their storage and refrigerators to avoid premature spoilage of food due to irregularities in temperature.
Working with food banks worldwide:
Following the footpath of TESCO, supermarkets can work alongside local food banks to donate food. As products have a limited shelf life, it is vital to ensure they are stored and preserved correctly. For, e.g., Supermarkets can partner with organisations like ‘Last Minute Market’ which recovers and reuses unsold goods from retailers.
It’s high time that supermarkets and retailers switch to eco-friendly options for packing foodstuffs. Organisations need to ban the use of plastic entirely in all their outlets. They must encourage consumers to bring their own bags for grocery shopping. They can also provide consumers with alternative options like jute or cloth bags which are biodegradable.
There is enough information online providing the benefits of compost. Supermarkets should create their compost to avoid wastage and reduce the damage done to the environment. If it’s not possible to create their compost retailers and supermarkets can work along with farmers or suppliers to develop compost for them. It can be utilized as a fertiliser to grow the better quality of fruits and vegetables.
Fighting food waste is a perplexing issue, and even though many companies are taking the initiative to tackle it, more can be done to create a significant impact and bring in change faster. Technology isn’t the only way to reduce food waste, but it provides retailers and supermarkets with better techniques and opportunities to tackle this problem.