There is a shocking amount of waste happening in the food supply chain right now. According to the USDA, more than one-third of the U.S. food supply goes uneaten through loss or waste, and Feeding America reports that each year, 108 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to 130 billion meals and more than $408 billion in food thrown away each year.
At the same time, the recession, inflation and in particular the rising cost of groceries are making essentials even less affordable for many; in fact, food inflation has jumped more than 12% in just a year. With more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, experiencing food insecurity in the United States, the problem is impossible to ignore, but the answer may be more obvious than we think: Reduce food waste, and channel that food to those who need it most.
[Read more: "The ROI of Supermarket Sustainability"]
Innovations in technology can be used to combat inefficiency in the food supply chain – leveraging technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is one way for retailers to be more precise in predicting accurate matching supply with demand for more efficient inventory management. For example, Afresh builds AI solutions to help prevent grocery store food waste and estimatesit has already prevented 6.9 million pounds of food waste.
Online SNAP EBT
E-commerce for groceries also provides an important path to make sure that those most in need of affordable, healthy food options have access to it. This includes ramping up the availability of SNAP EBT.
Forty-two million Americans rely on SNAP benefits; right now, 250,000 brick-and-mortar grocers accept SNAP EBT in store, but only a fraction of them accept it online. Online SNAP grew 525% from 2020 to 2021, and we expect that triple-digit growth to continue. With technology more readily available for independent grocers not only to get online, but also to start accepting SNAP payments online, the answer to working through both food waste and food insecurity could finally be here.
Many SNAP recipients are homebound, lack transportation or live in a food desert without easy access to grocery stores; in fact, one in five SNAP EBT recipients is on disability. Bringing SNAP online means recipients can more easily use their benefits and not rely on traveling in person to stores. These recipients are also often living paycheck to paycheck, and their SNAP allowances aren’t able to cover the entire cost of their family’s weekly food bill. In-person grocery shopping to places that accept SNAP can mean an arduous weekly trip to the local grocer, where any marked-down perishable food, like produce or meats, is long gone – often discarded before it can be bought. Having local independent grocers selling food online and accepting SNAP EBT is a super-efficient way of getting healthy, affordable food into the hands of those who need it desperately right now.
More grocers are facilitating the acceptance of SNAP EBT online. Apps like Flashfood, which is deployed at many food retailers, are saving consumers money while fighting food waste, while tech-savvy grocers like Farmstead are dedicated to reducing food waste and delivering discounted healthy groceries directly to people’s homes.
Technology can play a pivotal role in solving the pressing issues of food waste and food insecurity. Expect to see online SNAP EBT as a payment method enabling hundreds of millions of healthy, affordable meals to be delivered to low-income households. This will divert food away from landfills and into the homes of those who need it most.