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Waging War on Waste

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Care to take a guess at how much food is wasted in the United States? If you said 20 percent, you’d be wrong. Even if you estimated 30 percent, you would still be way off.

It turns out that some 40 percent of all edible goods in the U.S. end up in a landfill rather than eaten. Part of the problem is food that is purchased with good intentions, but never gets prepared or eaten. Then there’s the food that people cook but don’t use up; eventually it gets tossed in the trash.

Retailers bear some responsibility for food waste, too. Fruits and vegetables have a limited shelf life and supermarkets won’t sell produce unless it meets certain aesthetic standards or is within its sell-by date. Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, has come up with a new retail concept that tackles this issue head on.

It’s called The Daily Table, and the goal of the hybrid venue -- part grocery store, part restaurant -- is to put all of its food to use, whether it’s past the sell-by date or not. Rather than focusing on branded fruit and vegetables that often come with manufacturer-imposed use-by dates, The Daily Table will keep its goods on the shelf until they begin to wane. Once this has happened, typically a few days after the expiration date, the goods will be reused in the restaurant. By keeping food until the latest possible date, the franchise will be able to offer healthy, safe meals that can be priced to compete with fast food chains.

Across the pond, Tesco recently revealed that it threw away nearly 30,000 tons of food between January and June 2013. In addition, research showed that nearly 70 percent of salad bags ended up tossed in the trash and 40 percent of apples were wasted.

In an effort to reduce waste, Tesco’s commercial director of group food Matt Simister announced plans to begin tackling the problem. “Little changes can make a big difference, like storing fruit and [vegetables] in the right way,” he says. “We’re making changes to our processes and in store: ending multi-buy promotions on large packs of bagged salads is one way we can help … . We’re working with our suppliers to try to cut waste at all stages of the journey from farm to fork.”