By Rachel Adrian
Food waste is a huge problem in today’s society. Canadians waste approximately 40% of our total food production. The quantifiable value of food wasted in Canada is about $31 billion each year according to a recent report. Food waste is everyone’s problem, but many believe there is nothing we can do about it.Why do Canadians Continue to Waste So Much Food?BBMG’s recent “Waste Not, Want Not” report on food waste really forced me to reflect on food waste. They claim that one of the major reasons food is wasted is that no one wants to eat ‘food waste’. This term is unappetizing and inaccurate. Much of the food that we throw out, is really still edible, nutritious food, but we see it as garbage. As a society, we are wary of foods close to expiry or that might not look quite 'perfect'. Perfection may sound nice, but in all reality, it doesn't really apply to food. Often foods will get a little bruised or otherwise damaged, and rather than salvaging what's left, we throw out the entire product. It is critical that we start a conversation about the true value of food and encourage proper planning to reduce waste at all stages in the chain from farm to table.Poor Planning: With the increase of smaller households and crazy schedules it is becoming more and more difficult to plan meals and grocery shopping ahead of time. As someone living in a small, two-person household, I often have to throw out food because we didn’t have a chance to eat it before it went bad. Stores sell large packages that don't account for the small households many of us live in. Canadians have also become really bad at reusing leftovers in creative ways and many times, this food is thrown out.Limited Storage Space: People often throw food out just because they don’t have room in the fridge or they have a lack of storage containers. As a society, we like to take the path of least resistance and this often results in us throwing out perfectly edible food.Confusing ‘Best Before’ Dates: Most of us see an item past its ‘best before’ date and assume that it is bad, however this is not always true. There are a multitude of factors that will determine whether an item has gone bad within this time or not. We need to change the narrative around expiry dates and encourage people to see these dates as guidelines rather than rules.Opportunities for Shared Value in Grocery Supply ChainsThere are huge opportunities to monetize the issues evident in food waste and create positive opportunities for grocers, producers, consumers and the environment.A French grocer (Intermarché) started the ‘Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables’ campaign that has been changing the narrative about the strangely shaped fruits and vegetables we all see in the supermarket. Intermarché set aside a section of each store for the ‘ugly’ produce and discounted it. If ‘The Ugly Carrot’ is going into a soup, who really cares anyways? Especially if it’s cheaper! There is nothing wrong with these products but traditionally they have been thrown out by retailers as consumers wouldn’t purchase them. The program has been incredibly successful and has generated incredible business growth for the grocer.Grocery stores have an opportunity to incentivize the purchase of foods that are approaching their best-before dates. There are several great apps in the processes of being developed that do just this (Food Loop in Germany and EndGroceryWaste in the United States). Customers can use their smartphones to scan perishables and see real-time discounts on older produce. For example, apples that are 2 days away from their expiry date would be cheaper than produce that just arrived.Rewarding frequent visits to the store rather than spending more money in a single visit. Shopping more often allows people a better opportunity to know what they will actually need instead of trying to plan far in advance. This would cause customer loyalty as they know that the can be more efficient by shopping with your store.Clarify the meaning of ‘best-before’ or ‘expiry’ labels. People assume that foods are bad by these dates but there are actually many factors involved in whether a food will have gone bad or not. This simple change could greatly reduce food waste in Canada.There are a number of incredible campaigns trying to highlight the issues of food waste and hunger. Please check out some of the following for more details! Love Food, Hate Waste, Leftover Swap, Future Food 2050 and Second Harvest.