How to Minimize Food Waste and Build a More Sustainable Grocery Retail Business
By iFoodDS Team
April 26, 2022
Food waste has been an ongoing issue for the food industry, but consumers have become increasingly sensitive to it. A recent survey gauged how consumers feel about this issue. Notably, 72% said they would support a grocery store committed to reducing food waste after they learned that retail is responsible for 43 billion pounds of food waste each year.1
This presents a very real opportunity for retailers to boost their brand reputation by increasing their sustainability efforts. However, reducing food waste requires a multi-pronged approach. Here are some strategies that can help retailers work towards their sustainability goals.
1. Work Collaboratively with Suppliers
Food waste starts at the growing level and continues throughout the supply chain. There are opportunities for organizations at every stage to reduce their food waste, and no one supply chain role is to blame for food waste. This means you will need to rely on your suppliers to help you make a meaningful impact on sustainability.
Strive to foster a partnership rather than a transactional relationship. This may require some adjustments on both ends, but the benefits are well worth it.
- When you strengthen ties with suppliers, you can better align them to your quality specs so that less produce is rejected at the DC.
- Your suppliers will ideally become transparent and share objective information about the quality you can expect based on weather conditions and other factors. This prepares you to adapt your buying strategy as necessary. Be ready to make dynamic decisions on whether to adjust specs based on growing season, adverse weather, and/or the current market.
The more information that flows between you and your suppliers, the better you can work together to reduce food waste.
2. Move Towards a First Expired, First Out Model
If you’re still operating according to First In, First Out (FIFO), you could be wasting produce with inefficient stocking methods. Move towards a First Expired, First Out (FEFO) model instead. This can be more challenging when you’re working with fresh produce since you’re not given precise “best by” dates as with other commodities. How can you follow a true FEFO model when you’re relying on produce department employees to judge produce quality based on their observations rather than a firm date?
In a recent Progressive Grocer webinar, the panelists discussed what grocery retailers can do to reduce food waste. Brian Daly, Digital Food Safety Tech Leader at Sensormatic Solutions, recommended gathering data as the first step. He pointed out that grocery stores can’t put any processes in place to reduce food waste until they understand the problem, and data gathering is the first step to understanding the root causes of shrink.
What does this data gathering process look like in the store?
Retailers should start building profiles for their commodities based on data accumulated over time. Start by recording shelf life data and benchmarking by supplier and location. While this could be done on paper, it’s far more efficient to record shelf life data in a digital format. Once you have historical data to analyze, you can identify the larger trends and patterns and use that to make better stocking decisions.
Here’s an example – if you know you can expect an average shelf life of 10 days from Supplier A’s strawberries and 7 days from Supplier B’s strawberries, you can adjust your stocking patterns accordingly. Even if your Supplier A shipment arrives a day earlier, you’ll know to display Supplier B’s strawberries first because they have less overall shelf life.
3. Get the Right Tools to Empower Your Sustainability Initiatives
Audit your current processes, from inventory management to shelf life monitoring, and identify areas for improvement. Are there any inefficiencies that could be addressed with the right tool? For example, could your ordering schedule be optimized by investing in a better inventory management software? Do you have a standardized system for recording and benchmarking produce shelf life, or are you intermittently recording employees’ observations? Take a deeper look at the tools and vendors you’re currently using and consider how you can reallocate your investments or make new investments to set yourself up for success in your sustainability goals.
4. Involve Consumers with Your Sustainability Initiatives
Many consumers are already aware of the food waste issue and working towards reducing their own food waste. Harness this momentum by increasing your outreach and education efforts. This may include a variety of tactics.
Educate shoppers on factors that contribute to their own food waste and how they can maximize quality and shelf life at home.
Teach shoppers how to properly store produce (i.e., which commodities should be stored apart from each other, which ones need to be refrigerated, and which ones don’t require refrigeration).
Provide creative recipes to help consumers use up leftovers. You could even pair these recipes with store promotions to increase sales.
Build eye-catching displays of sale items nearing their “best by” dates and consider including signage that explains the truth about expiration date misconceptions.
Market “imperfect produce” as a more sustainable choice. If you can get your shopper base on board with buying produce that has visual defects (i.e., misshapen or discolored), you can start to adjust your own specs so that you’re accepting produce you’d normally reject based on superficial appearance defects.
You can utilize multiple channels to reach consumers with a sustainability message: signage in the produce department, a monthly store magazine, a note in your weekly ads, your mobile app, social media posts, blog posts, and/or community outreach events. When you align your shoppers’ views to your sustainability goals, you’ll have their support to attain these goals.
5. Give Back to Your Local Community
The issue of food waste goes beyond lost profits. It also hurts people who are facing food insecurity. Charitable donations should be a part of every retailer’s strategy for combatting food waste. Connect with food banks close to each store location and build a relationship with the team so that you’re kept in the loop about donation needs. In addition to helping your community, you’ll build your brand’s reputation by demonstrating a commitment to social responsibility.
6. Improve Traceability with Your Supply Chain Partners
Although traceability is primarily thought of as a food safety initiative, it also ties in strongly with food waste. Historically, recalls have led to mass amounts of produce being discarded. The FDA has struggled to narrow down outbreak investigations in the absence of traceback/traceforward capabilities. When affected lots can’t be identified, retailers need to empty their shelves of the affected commodity in order to protect public health.
Recent advances in traceability technology have opened up new possibilities for managing food waste during the outbreak investigation process. With complete supply chain transparency, the food industry can narrow the scope of recalls by quickly pinpointing the affected lots. Retailers should consider working with their supply chain partners to enable traceability across the most at-risk commodities. The FDA’s proposed FSMA Rule 204, set to be finalized in November 2022, will be a catalyst for more widespread adoption of traceability technology.
By improving your ability to traceback and traceforward down to the lot level from the vendor to the DC to the store, not only will you improve your inventory model, but less food will be discarded during outbreak investigations or recalls.
Partner with iFoodDS to Manage Food Waste and Shrink
iFoodDS is a software provider committed to relentlessly pursuing a better food supply chain. We offer connected food safety, traceability, and quality management solutions for all stages of the supply chain, and we’ve worked with retail and distribution leaders such as Ahold Delhaize, Aldi, and Meijer. Reach out to our team to see how we can help your business manage shrink and reduce food waste.
1. Marian Zboraj, “Consumers Prefer Retailers Committed to Fighting Food Waste: New Data,” August 2, 2021, https://progressivegrocer.com/consumers-prefer-retailers-committed-fighting-food-waste-new-data