More Food Waste Coverage
Addressing the food waste crisis is more important than ever. Sixty-three million pounds of food is thrown away annually in the United States alone, reaching landfills and contributing up to 10% of greenhouse-gas emissions globally, according to impact technology company Divert Inc. More than 40% of food loss occurs at the retail and consumer level, and the average grocery store loses $40,000 in profit a month on wasted food.
“Food retailers sit in a unique position within the food supply chain and have a critical role to play in mitigating wasted food,” says Ryan Begin, co-founder and CEO of Concord, Mass.-based Divert. “In doing so, they can see significant cost savings, provide food to communities in need, meet their social and environmental goals, and help to ensure the future of our planet.”
While many food retailers already take part in food donation programs, there are plenty of sustainability partners that can help grocers explore other business-savvy strategies to divert food waste from landfills. Here are just a few suggestions.
Divert is also a big believer that actionable data can be an incredibly powerful tool to prevent wasted food.
“Retailers need to know what food is going to waste, how much and why it’s happening,” explains Begin. “Collecting actionable information, such as time on shelf and the temperature food is kept at, is important in order to build awareness and make changes to prevent wasted food long term. Understanding how often and why food goes to waste can inform future purchase orders and unlock new supply chain efficiencies.”
Further, did you know that grocers waste more food during the summer? New data from Divert found that wasted food from grocery stores increases by an average of nearly 20% during the summer versus the winter (see the chart below).
“Summer marks peak growing season across the U.S.,” notes Begin. “While this is a time to celebrate an abundance of fresh produce and gather with our family and friends, our data indicates that the summer is also a period when a significant amount of that produce goes to waste.”
The company looked at wasted food processed at its facilities across the nation in 2020-22 during July through September compared with January through March. In its analysis of what’s contributing to the drastic increase, the company identified such key factors as:
Peak Produce Season: An increased abundance of produce during the summer translates to a greater volume coming into grocery stores. In addition to a greater selection, more fresh food can go to waste if it’s not moved and sold quickly enough. Technologies like artificial intelligence and Internet of Things solutions can be used to identify trends or issues in stores, and uncover insights that can inform food retailers’ future processes to prevent unnecessary waste.
Heat and Human Error: When produce is exposed to greater temperature fluctuations like those seen during the summer, the percentage of wasted food increases for retailers. In the heat of the summer, produce left on a retailer’s loading dock for too long before being moved into a cooler can cause it to lose freshness more quickly. When that food goes home with the consumer, it then lasts for fewer days in the fridge. Divert suggests that increased awareness and appropriate training of retail employees led by data-driven insights could help to address this.
In addition, Divert can process wasted food into alternative energy resources. “One of the most sustainable solutions is a process called anaerobic digestion, which turns wasted food into renewable energy,” says Begin. “In doing so, retailers can help recoup some of the value that went into producing that food — from the water and energy that went into producing it, to the people and transportation that went into bringing it to a store shelf. In the case of Divert, our anaerobic digestion process produces renewable energy considered to be carbon negative. It can be used to supply homes and businesses, or utilized by retailers at their own facilities, like in the case of our Freetown, Mass., facility, where it powers up to 40% of Stop & Shop’s distribution center.”