Walmart Tackles Food Waste

Taking its status as “the world’s largest grocer” seriously, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is cracking down on the issue of food waste by standardizing its food labels and giving its consumers greater access to “imperfect but perfectly usable” fresh produce that would otherwise be discarded.

According to a July 13 blog post by Frank Yiannis, VP, Food Safety-Walmart: “Consumers often mistake date labels as food safety indicators; however, most of the labels are created based on peak quality. Adding to the confusion is the different language used on labels, including ‘best by,’ ‘use by’ and ‘sell by.’ That’s why, in the last year, we started requiring suppliers of nonperishable food products under our Great Value private label to use a standardized date label, “Best if used by.” The change was precipitated by a customer survey in which respondents overwhelmingly picked that wording as the best way for a food label to indicate “a change in quality but not safety.”

Yiannis added, “The switch will go into full effect this month and involves thousands of products.”

The Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer is also interested in offering irregular produce; that is, items “that may be slightly blemished or oddly shaped,” explained Yiannis. “These items usually make up a very small part of a harvest and aren’t a major contributor to food waste; however, we know every bit counts.”

In keeping with that mindset, Walmart has begun selling Spuglies, imperfect-looking russet potatoes from Texas, in U.S. stores at a value price and will roll out a brand of Washington state apples with slight exterior damage,“I’m Perfect,” this week.; the compamy already offers an “ugly produce” program at its Asda stores in the United Kingdom. “Because customers around the world shop very differently, our team here in the U.S. has been working for months on our first spec for this type of produce,” noted Yiannis. “We’re exploring the ways to make these items available while providing value to our customers and supporting farmers.”

Other efforts undertaken by the company to combat food waste is a joint Walmart-Sam’s Club nationwide organics-recycling program that involves composting, conversion to animal feed, and energy production through anaerobic digestion; offering garden products from Ecoscraps, a company that turns food scraps into organic and sustainable lawn materials such as compost, potting mixes and plant food; and consolidating undamaged eggs into whole cartons, thereby preventing cartons with just one or two broken eggs from being thrown away.

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