Food waste is a problem at every stage of the supply chain, but reducing grocery food waste can have a particularly strong impact on both upstream and downstream waste producers. Due to their central place in the supply chain, grocery stores can influence better purchasing decisions and provide data to help food producers more accurately gauge demand.
There’s much room to drive improvement in grocery food waste. ReFED, a nonprofit driving food waste reduction through data, estimates that retailers generated 5.12 million tons of surplus food in 2021. Nearly 35 percent of this surplus was sent to landfills or was incinerated.
Fortunately, as more food retailers are becoming aware of the food waste’s impact on climate change, they’re taking steps to stop the waste. Below are nine strategies that grocery retailers can try to reduce their food waste.
- Update your labeling
The way food is labeled can deter consumers from purchasing food. Inconsistent use of terms like “use by”, “best before”, and “sell by” can lead to a perception that food that is still good should be thrown out. In fact, the Food Date Labeling Act, introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2023, aims to reduce confusion around inconsistent label language. To be effective, consistent language should be paired with in-store education efforts that explain the terms in use.
- Decrease waste with discounts
Letting consumers know when food is still good is helpful – but so too is encouraging them to purchase goods nearing their use-by date. A number of technology solutions are now available to make it even easier for retailers to connect consumers with discounted foods.
For example, the startup Wasteless provides supermarkets with an AI-powered pricing engine that can adjust product pricing in real time based on expiration dates. The Flashfood app lets consumers shop for these discounted foods online and then pick them up in a dedicated Flashfood zone within the grocery store. The Too Good to Go app, which connects consumers with half-price “surprise bags” of surplus foods, has found that 76 percent of consumers who discover a store’s discount deals return as full-price customers.
- Donate dated food
As meat, bakery items, or produce nears its sell-by date, retailers can donate these goods to a local food pantry partner, making room for fresher goods.
With a plan in place for using food as it nears expiration, retailers can feel better about stocking large amounts of the fresh food that is more likely to entice consumers.
- Make food waste reduction part of your brand
Reducing grocery food waste can be a tough sell when overflowing shelves are tied to your brand identity. Yet being clear about food waste reduction goals and strategies can actually strengthen your brand. A 2022 report Reflect. Rethink. Reconsider. Why food waste is everybody’s problem, from the Capgemini Research Institute notes that consumers have a much greater awareness today that food waste is an issue.
The report found that 72% of consumers report being more conscious of food waste compared to 33% in 2019, but they’re not always sure how to reduce waste.
When retailers make consumers partners in the fight to reduce grocery food waste, they can strengthen brand loyalty.
- Turn waste into feedstock
Food waste can be a valuable feedstock for livestock, although it can be tough for urban supermarkets to dispose of waste in this way.
That’s why the startup Do Good Foods is creating a network of retailers around the U.S. from which it can collect meat and produce that is no longer marketable to process for use as feed on its poultry farms.
In only its first year of operation, the Pennsylvania-based organization estimates that it has diverted 27 million pounds of surplus food from landfills – and prevented more than 3,100 metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
- Strengthen demand forecasting with AI
Retailers have access to powerful new AI-based tools to help improve forecasting and demand. Algonomy, one of many providers of such tools, notes that the ability to integrate a wider range of real-time data can strengthen forecasting.
Walmart is among the retailers adopting AI tools to predict when people will shop, what fresh goods they’ll be looking for, and when to order those goods to meet demand.
- Track food status using sensors
In combination with its forecasting tools, Walmart is collecting data on the temperature of goods as food moves throughout its supply chain. This is meant to track the freshness of goods.
- Focus on the data
Progress can’t be made without a clear starting point and metrics in place by which to measure success. This is true both at the retailer level and at the national and global level.
Many programs are available to help retailers benchmark and track their food waste. Providing data to databases such as the ReFED Insights Engine or working with industry associations can help your data do more good.
- When you absolutely must throw it out, do so thoughtfully
Zero waste won’t happen overnight. But when it comes time to throw food out, retailers can do so in the least environmentally damaging way possible. Sending food to the landfill means that food decomposes in an oxygen-free process that releases damaging levels of methane into the environment.
Instead, retailers can invest in solutions like LFC biodigesters that break down a wide range of food types in an oxygen-rich process with byproducts that include grey water. Biodigesters also collect data on the types of waste being broken down, giving retailers access to more insight that they can feed into their forecasting demand systems.
By incorporating a range of solutions that address food waste from transport through unavoidable disposal, retailers can make bigger strides in reducing their environmental impact.
To learn more about how an LFC biodigester can add value to your grocery food waste management strategy, contact Power Knot today.