September 20, 2021

How Supermarkets and Grocery Stores Can Prevent Food Waste and Climate Change

Food Waste: A Silent Problem

Supermarkets and grocery stores face a unique plight in America — nearly 30 percent of food is thrown away before it ever reaches the consumer despite the fact that 10.5 percent of households are food insecure. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food was wasted in 2010. This has a tremendous impact on the environment as organic waste accounts for 18 percent of all material in landfills. As food waste rots, it releases methane which is a greenhouse gas that is 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

Customers and employees are becoming more aware of sustainable practices and operations. There are now expectations for supermarkets to handle food from start to finish with the environment in mind. The best way for retail markets and grocery stores to combat climate change isn’t just to procure the food from sustainable sources but includes shifting their focus to preventing food waste.

How Food Waste is Created

Supermarkets generate a large amount of food waste due to misconceptions around expiration dates and naturally occurring product damage from transportation and handling. Many supermarkets do not price their inventory to be moved or sold before the expiration dates. It is cheaper to throw away food than to try to scramble and move products before it expires. 

More importantly, expiration dates are typically misunderstood by the general public. The actual term “Expiration Date” should be viewed more as a guidance on peak quality and freshness of the product.

  • Sell by date: This advises a retailer on how long they should display the product for sale. Items that are past the sell by date are no longer at peak quality but are still typically edible.
  • Best if used by (or before date): This advises the consumer on the best date for quality or flavor of the product. 
  • Guaranteed fresh date: This typically refers to baked goods and items. Items past this date are edible but will not be peak quality and freshness.
  • Used by date: This refers to the last date recommended by the manufacturer for use of the product at peak quality.

Food products naturally expire on their journey to the shelves, especially bulk fruits and vegetables which are prone to ripening quickly and spoiling. When produce begins to ripen, it releases a gas called ethylene which causes other produce to ripen as well. This causes a chain reaction, leading to mass ripening of produce. The ripened produce is easily bruised during normal handling and transportation, leading to ugly fruits and vegetables that are deemed unfit for sale.

The Grocer’s Path to Fighting Climate Change

Retailers are slowly turning towards frameworks used by corporations, such as the food waste hierarchy, and applying it to their sustainability goals. There is a corresponding strategy at every stage—from the production of food through to distribution and into disposal—which enables zero waste achievements. Supermarkets can reduce food waste through purchasing strategy forecasting, careful handling and packaging, resourceful utilization of their food products, and proper disposal methods.

Many retailers are integrating technology into their operations and processes. Waste data analytics can help pinpoint key areas which can be improved. By measuring and understanding the types of food waste being generated, grocers can begin to take preventive measures. They can identify which types of food are highly perishable and how much is being wasted on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. 

From reports and graphs, stores can create profit maximization models to create ideal inventory orders to minimize inventory surplus and identify key steps in minimizing product damage. It may mean that a certain product requires more careful packaging or a different vendor should be utilized. These processes not only lead to food waste reduction, but also result in cost savings thanks to decreased surplus inventory, lowered wasted hauling costs, and decreased waste handling management.

Fighting Food Waste on a Local Level

A number of cities and counties, such as California, New York, and Seattle, are tackling food waste on a more local scale. In 2009, San Francisco passed a city ordinance that made food recycling mandatory. Seafood City, a Filipino supermarket chain, has a store in San Francisco that is currently using the LFC-500 biodigester to safely and economically digest food waste which ranges from molding fruit to raw chicken. 

While Florida does not have any food recycling laws, the proximity to the coast means that there is a greater chance for food waste to impact the ocean which can be highly disastrous. Bravo Supermarket, a supermarket chain in Florida, currently uses the LFC biodigester as their primary organic waste solution. 

Contact Power Knot to learn how you can make an impact on climate change through food waste prevention today.

Power Knot