Brands that Tackle Food Waste can Woo Consumers

23 Jun 2014|Leslie Pascaud

There is a prime opportunity today for food brands to reduce waste and, following the examples of Ikea and EasyJet, make this an integral part of their brand story. Americans today are paying closer attention to food waste, long a European concern, and a welcome development given that we throw away between 30-40% of our edible food every year. Consequently, it is a great time for mainstream food brands to rethink policy, and develop messaging and activation strategies to drive both internal and consumer food-saving behaviors.

We all instinctively know that it is senseless to waste a perfectly good meal that could go into the mouths of the hungry. But there is also a hefty price tag for food waste to business and society that has only recently been quantified: an estimated $165 billion per year. What’s more, every ounce of the estimated 33 million tons of food we don’t eat contributes far more than its weight in waste. According to the NRDC, getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Uneaten food also ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions that cause global warming. And according to the EPA, food waste has increased by 50 percent since the 1970s.

In the past, these figures would leave most Americans unfazed; however the dwindling of accessible resources has led companies to more carefully audit the cost of operations and to search for savings wherever they can be found. The same holds true for the post- recession consumer whose eagle eye actively seeks out efficiency in a way that would make their grandparents proud.
The good news is that both corporation and consumer now have access to a growing number of initiatives that are making it easier to waste-not …solutions that go from farm, to store, to fridge and all the way through to trash. A few examples:

Farm auctions: CropMobster™ ensures that no farmer has to throw away unsold food. It links communities in need with local farmers, producers and food purveyors who can quickly sell or donate excess produce.

Clever Food Service: Sodexo food service has begun operating more than 300 “trayless” cafeterias on college campuses, discouraging students from overloading their trays and thus resulting in a 30 percent reduction in food waste. Restaurant companies like Darden (Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster) have put systems into place to distribute their surplus to soup kitchens throughout the country. The ex-president of Trader Joe’s is launching a new retail venture this fall:  The Daily Table will buy back supermarkets’ still edible fresh produce deemed unsellable and market it as ‘excess inventory’ at deeply discounted prices, a la TJ Maxx.

Fresher Fridge: FreshPaper™ by Fenugreen has launched a simple piece of paper infused with spices that organically keeps fruits and veggies fresh for 2-4 times longer. Designers like jihyun david are even looking at ways to create “food symbiosis” in your fridge: for example, putting apples which emit ethylene gas next to potatoes apparently prevents the latter from sprouting. And Google, in recognition of the fact that queries for “leftovers” surged by one-third in comparison to last year, has collaborated with the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to launch Food Rescue. It’s a new app that lets people dictate up to nine ingredients into their smartphones to immediately get recipe combinations for their leftover food.

Trash Power: A growing number of companies are monetizing even rotten food. Harvest Power has 40 plants across the North America that take food waste, as well as leaves and yard trimmings, and, through anaerobic digestion and composting, transform them into renewable energy to power neighborhood homes and natural fertilizer which it sells to farmers and landscapers.

So we are slowly making progress in reducing food waste, but there is still substantial room for improvement. The food industry still relies too heavily on bundling/ promotional offers that encourage excess purchases of perishable items. If we’re going to wind up throwing food away, buying lots of it on promo isn’t a very good deal. Brands should rethink this policy. Portion sizing is another way to help people from opening more than necessary. Re-sealable bags can be very helpful in facilitating proper storage. Beyond that, brands can use back of pack to educate on how to better store and use perishable ingredients. Even simple messaging can make a big difference eg: “Frozen grapes are delicious.”

The time is “ripe” for leaders in the food industry to innovate and stake claim to a new space in the consumer mind: responsible eating for our waistbands, our wallets and our planet.

Written by Leslie Pascaud, Executive VP.
Follow Leslie on Twitter @LesliePascaud

Image source: Istock

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