State of Green Business

Speaking Sustainably

More grocers are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to food waste

New labeling policies and flash sales of produce, bread and other items nearing their expiration dates are two ways groceries and supermarkets are raising food waste awareness.

The adage "Put your money where your mouth is" takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to tackling food waste. 

We waste a massive amount of food. An estimated one-third of what's intended for consumption across the globe is spoiled or discarded before it can be eaten. Each year, more than 130 billion pounds of food is wasted. About 72 billion pounds ended up in landfills and incinerators — nearly 40 percent coming from consumers.  

That doesn’t factor in the immense quantities of water, soil, fertilizer and labor used in food production that ultimately go to waste. Food waste costs retailers and consumers an estimated $160 billion annually. Food production is costly, and so is its disposal. 

It’s also inhumane. One in nine people on earth — nearly 800 million — don’t have enough food to eat. Scientists predict that number soon will skyrocket, as the consequences of climate change bring more frequent, widespread and severe droughts and famine.

It is, quite literally, a mess. 

Fortunately, a number of companies are stepping up and putting a stop to food waste. From grocery stores to suppliers, strategies for ending food waste are quite creative, ranging from practical, small changes that get big results to entire sustainability campaigns and scientific innovations.

Walmart, for instance, has switched to "Best if Used By" labels to prevent premature disposal of food; it also replace individual cracked eggs instead of disposing of full packs. Kroger has launched the Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative to divert surplus food to areas where it’s needed most; the grocer also has committed to a policy of zero food waste by 2025. Similarly, Leprino Foods, the world's largest producer of mozzarella cheese, has experimented with applying leftover lactose from dairy production toward sustainable agriculture and soil management. Swedish grocery retailer Coop, meanwhile, has started a campaign to teach people to smell their milk rather than trusting the expiration date.

Other corporations are turning to technology to save money for customers and themselves, a harbinger of future initiatives to reduce food waste. For example, Hy-Vee supermarkets announced a pilot program where shoppers can purchase food such as meats, dairy products and bread approaching its expiration date at a significant discount. The grocery chain has partnered with a mobile app developer called Flashfood that allows users to browse and select these discounted food items.

These are sustainability efforts that customers will remember. Shelton Group found that waste reduction drives one-third of Americans to make greener food and beverage purchases. In one of our Pulse 2018 surveys, nearly three-fourths of consumers said they care about a business’s food waste practices, and almost half indicated a willingness to pay more at restaurants with responsible food recovery initiatives. 

This awareness and concern about food waste is part of a much larger consumer movement rejecting waste of all types and demanding corporate accountability. Look no further than the wave of companies phasing out single-use disposable plastic items, proudly selling these commitments and reusable replacements to attract consumers.

Consumers not only want to know how brands are making a difference on waste reduction but by taking action and sharing that action, companies help alleviate consumer guilt over waste. Food waste reduction programs such as Hy-Vee’s check those boxes, in addition to moving less desirable food from the grocer’s shelves and lowering shoppers’ grocery bill. 

Creative strategies of any size save brands money on food disposal and lost revenue, appeal to the expanding pool of conscious consumers and help put a dent in our global addiction to squandering. And that’s no waste. 

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