Reducing Food Waste in Grocery Retail

Our annual, global food waste could feed a staggering 2 billion hungry tummies.

Whether it’s poor supply chain management, consumer habits, or wasteful manufacturing processes, a third of all the food we produce ends up in the trash.

The modern consumer demands more variety and freshness than ever before. Grocery retailers must deliver quality goods from the four corners of the Earth in record time. The pressure to compete with other retailers is creating a perfect storm of wasted energy, time, money, and crucially, resources.

With 46% of food waste occurring during the processing, distribution, and consumption stages of the food cycle, grocery retailers play an important role in reducing the world’s food waste.

Luckily, technological advancements in waste management and increased awareness of sustainability provide a glimmer of hope in this hotly debated topic.

Join us as we explore how grocery retailers are adapting their processes to reduce food waste from farm-to-fork and educate consumers to shop smarter.

What’s the Big Deal?

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food are wasted each year, creating a global issue which requires immediate attention.

It seems unthinkable that there are 815 million people worldwide suffering from chronic undernourishment, yet we’re wasting enough food to feed more than double this figure.

Not only does food waste misplace vital resources for feeding the world’s population, but it also misuses about 3.5 billion acres of farmland each year — accounting for a huge proportion of our global carbon footprint.

Reducing food waste is an issue of environmental, humanitarian, and financial concern for both consumers and grocery retailers.

As part of the UN’s worldwide effort to dramatically reduce food waste over the next decade, grocery retailers are working to streamline their supply chains and adopt new technologies to increase inefficiencies.

Intelligent Shopper Solutions is helping retailers optimise assortment, promotion activity, and the store’s macro space via our Insights Platform. This cutting-edge loyalty solution technology reduces food waste and cuts costs.

Why is Food Wasted?

At every stage of food production, small inefficiencies can add up to cause big losses.

Reducing food waste involves inspecting each stage of production with a fine-toothed comb and identifying areas where these inefficiencies can be avoided.

Whether it’s using pesticides to reduce crop failure, or educating consumers to buy wonky veg, there are tonnes of ways to reduce food waste from farm-to-table.

Debunking Consumer Myths about Food

Quite a lot of global food wastage is caused by misconceptions and myths within the grocery retail sector. Let’s take a look at some of the most common myths and why they’re simply not true.

Consumer Expect Cosmetic Perfection

The modern consumer has been trained to expect perfection when it comes to grocery shopping. Perfectly straight carrots, completely smooth potatoes, and brightly coloured tomatoes are the new norm on our supermarket shelves.

Bizarrely, this hunger for cosmetic perfection often comes above freshness and taste. Consumers are obsessed with how their food looks and anything that doesn’t meet their high standards, falls by the wayside.

Co-founder of Food Tank, Danielle Nierenberg, says:

“Food grows in the soil and is dirty and comes in all shapes and sizes, yet we’ve been trained to believe that everything is pristine and perfect. It’s part of our culture now. The grocery aisles tell our eyes one thing and we don’t realize that there is nothing bad about misshapen or imperfect-looking food.”

A study in Minnesota revealed that up to 20% of most fruit and veg crops were either the wrong size or “cosmetically compromised” to meet the high standards of the modern consumer.

Debugging the myths around how food looks and how it tastes is crucial if grocery retailers want to reduce food waste. Educating consumers to purchase ‘imperfect’ foods will prevent perfectly good food from ending up in the trash.

Lidl is leading the way with their ‘Too Good To Waste’ veg boxes where customers can grab a delicious box of wonky fruit and veg for just £1.50. The German supermarket is slowly changing customer mindsets by tempting them with low prices and selling food that would otherwise go to waste.

Expiration Dates Aren’t Gospel

‘Sell-by’ dates and ‘best before’ dates often cause perfectly good food to go to waste.

With certain foods, expiration dates are important and should be strictly listened to. In many cases, however, these dates are simply there to indicate the optimum freshness of a food item.

Many consumers wrongly assume that all foods need to be consumed by the expiration date.

If customers buy food but fail to consume it before the stated sell-by date, many throw it in the trash, regardless of whether it’s safe to eat or not. A recent survey found that “expiration date” is the most important factor on a food package for 70% American consumers when considering to purchase or eat a food item.

Similarly, retailers fear consumers will either not buy their food or think their stores are holding old produce. This pressure forces most retailers to pull items off the shelves several days before the sell-by date.

Other Reasons Food Goes to Waste

Overstocked Displays

No one likes searching around the back of supermarket shelves to grab the remaining scraps of a product. Consumers want choice and enjoy choosing from fully stocked product displays.

This consumer demand for fully stocked stores leads to food wastage as retailers often stock more produce than they’re planning to sell.

Additionally, even more food is wasted due to the enormous mountains of food displays crushing products and damaging packaging. Next time you see a damaged cereal box, do your bit by choosing it over the perfectly formed ones at the top of the pile.

Outdated Promotional Items

Retailers often cram their shelves with promotional stock to meet increased demand for certain products at particular times of the year.

Whether it’s pumpkins at Halloween, turkeys at Christmas, or chocolate truffles on Valentine's day, grocery retailers have to stock enough products to support a temporary surge and meet consumers’ demands.

These products are often sold as part of promotions to pull customers through the door. Inventory planning for these promotional items can be extremely difficult as retailers must strike a balance between losing out on sales due to a lack of stock, or wasting food by overshooting with a huge inventory.

We use customer loyalty data to solve this problem by analysing historic consumer behaviour to forecast accurate predictions of how much of a certain product will be sold in a given situation. Loyalty data holds the key to unlocking a world of information to make smarter procurement decisions and reduce food waste in the grocery industry.

Best Practices for Minimising Food Wastage

ReFED is a non-profit with an ambitious goal to save resources, alleviate hunger, conserve water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing global food waste.

As part of their roadmap to halve US food waste by 2030, the ReFED team have put together some top tips for improving supply chain efficiency and upcycling inedible foods to reduce overall food wastage.

Here are some of our favourites:

  • Animal Feed. Heat-treated food waste can be upcycled into animal feed to increase overall energy efficiency in the food industry.
  • Centralised Anaerobic Digestion (AD). Microorganisms can be used to break down biodegradable food waste into biogas (fuel) and digestate (soil fertiliser).
  • Blockchain. State of the art ledger technology allows grocery retailers to track the movement of a food item from farm-to-table. Keep a close eye on the item’s journey at every step of the supply chain to build trust with suppliers, cut-out inefficiencies, and reduce waste.
  • Packaging Adjustments. Adapt packaging designs to minimise spoilage of perishable foods and avoid residual container waste. Think about all those times you’ve tried to squeeze that last bit of ketchup from the bottle — surely there’s a better way to package everyone’s favourite sauce!

Conduct a Food Waste Analysis Today

Grocery retailers can conduct an analysis of their food waste to determine how much they're wasting and identify what steps they should take to increase overall efficiency. Analysing your waste involves auditing your existing business and pinpointing areas that need improving.

Typically, the more moving parts your business has, the more inefficiencies and waste you’ll deal with. The recipe for success to reduce food waste in grocery retail involves three key ingredients:

  1. Reduce the number of moving parts to minimise inefficiencies and avoid spoilage of perishable goods.
  2. Make sure you maintain a well-oiled machine by streamlining your processes and adopting new technologies to improve inventory management.
  3. Educate your customers to become more conscious consumers who are aware of their individual roles in reducing global food waste.

Reduce your Food Waste with Intelligent Shopper Solutions

We believe in the power of customer data to help retailers boost sales, increase customer reach, and strive for positive change.

Our data-driven technology allows retailers to understand their customers’ most intimate desires and create sophisticated strategies which set them apart from the competition.

As retailers continue to work towards building a more sustainable planet and reduce food waste, we are here to help with our powerful data solutions which deliver real results.