Research and advisory firm Coresight Research is pulling back the curtain on grocery food waste in North America with its new report, titled “Overcoming the Food Waste Challenge: Improving Profit While Doing Good.” While some strides have been made to combat the issue, Coresight estimates that food waste costs the grocery industry $16 billion in net income annually, and cohesive definitions and accountability are still greatly lacking.
National nonprofit ReFED reports that 30% of food retailers'
surplus food goes to the landfill, which Coresight concluded could equal $482 billion in potential lost revenue. In a world reeling from a pandemic, the Coresight report found that food waste is likely an even bigger problem than initially reported since many consumers purchased more food from grocery stores.
“This larger volume of food passing through grocery retailers likely results in an even greater amount of food waste, particularly as retailers are experiencing supply chain shortages and finding demand forecasting even more challenging amid rapidly shifting consumer buying patterns,” the report stated.
Susan Flake, director of business development for food industry solutions provider Avery Dennison, told Progressive Grocer that while the sheer magnitude of the food waste problem is staggering, there is a measurable acknowledgement among grocers that they need to make investments to help reverse the amount of food waste and its impact.
Some 90% of respondents in the Coresight survey said reducing food waste is important for reaching sustainability goals and 72% have set food waste-specific sustainability goals. Further, nearly half of grocery retailers plan to reduce food waste by 25%–75% by 2030.
The report points out that grocery retailers should “empower an individual with responsibility and the power to manage food waste across the entire organization and make the organization changes necessary to achieve their food-waste goals.” According to both Flake and the report, a big part of that equation is employing technology to solve the problem at its root.
Over-ordering and over-receiving were called out as major contributors to food waste, both of which could be remedied through more accurate demand forecasting. Technologies including radio-frequency identification (RFID), blockchain and artificial intelligence can all work together to give products a digital identity and quickly collect inventory levels, identify products about to expire and allow for proactive selling, Flake explained.
“This will lay the foundation for a reduction of food waste,” Flake said. “Knowing where the product is, knowing its expiration, having accurate inventory levels, all of that.”
Emerging technologies that can be equally important in the fight against food waste include sensing technologies to help protect shelf life, protective coatings that seal moisture in, intelligent routing, camera vision applications, improved temperature monitoring, intelligent packaging, dynamic pricing as a rule and more.
“To manage operations and minimize food waste, retailers need to know where [their] inventory is, how much there is, where it has been, and be able to derive insights for what to do with it,” the report stated. “Well-established technologies such as RFID offer inventory transparency and accuracy to retailers, which supports any food waste reduction efforts."