Food waste solutions for big business

Anna Vod · November 1, 2023 · Short URL:

The food management market is soaring to resolve grocery chains' struggle with surplus

This season, with Thanksgiving fast-approaching, Americans are all set to up their food waste. An earlier report approximated that 35% of the turkey meat gets discarded during the holiday – that’s 204 million pounds of perfectly good meat! In my September food waste story, I listed a few ways consumers can shop for food more sustainably, reducing household input in harmful methane emissions. In this piece, let’s take a look at how grocery giants are tackling the food waste problem.

Perishable foods are often edible well beyond the “sell by.” Yet we’ve heard reports and seen photos (examples: Safeway, Publix, Whole Foods) of all kinds of food discarded by grocery stores even as communities around the world continue to face food shortage. These stores have a policy to discard everything past expiration date, while on the other end, food distribution organizations may not accept expired food donations.

Thankfully, the food management business is rising and providing some options to improve the statistics, while grocery stores are fixing their food labels and joining programs to help the cause. There are shortcomings however, including the fragmentation of solutions and lack of technology and management support at the stores.

Future Market Insights just released a report estimating the food management market in the United States will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.9% over the next 10 years, reaching $40.2 billion by 2033. Worldwide, the consulting firm estimated the market’s value at $70 billion in 2023 and forecast it will hit $121.8 billion by 2033.

How do you turn food waste into money, you ask? Fertilizers, animal feed, and renewable energy! Here are some companies grabbing a slice of that market potential and working with grocery chains on upcycling and distributing surplus, prolonging shelf life, and refining inventory management software.

One such company is Afresh, which is working with Albertsons Companies on implementing software for inventory management, improving fresh produce planning and ordering. Among its partners are WinCo Foods, The Save Mart Companies, and Fresh Thyme.

Then there is Apeel, which has developed a coating for fresh produce to slow the rate of spoilage. According to the company website, this extra peel is made from nature-based and food-grade ingredients so that it’s safe for consumption. It offers two coating products – for conventional and organic fruits and veggies. “Apeel gives the entire supply chain more time. That's better for your business, your customers, and our planet,” the company proclaims. Apeel is working with Kroger, Walmart, and Harps Food Stores.

FoodHero offers another solution. This company runs an app where consumers get deals at local stores on foods at that approach expiration date, aren’t perfect enough to be put on shelves, or are overstocked. For shoppers, it’s a way to save; for stores, it’s a way to get reimbursed for surplus; for the planet, it’s a way to reduce landfills and methane emissions. Win-win-win. In a partnership with FoodHero, Sobeys, the second-largest supermarket chain in Canada, said it hopes to reduce its food waste by 50% by 2025.

Another rising hero in the industry is Divert, a company that removes more than 220,000 tons of food waste per year. It tackles the issue in three ways: (1) uses technology to maximize food freshness; (2) collects edible food and transfers it to communities in need; and (3) converts food waste into renewable energy – biogas, resembling natural gas. The company operates one renewable gas facility in California and is building another anaerobic digestion plant in Longview, to open next year. Divert has partnered with Albertsons, CVS, Safeway, and Target.

There is also Baker Commodities, which collects animal by-products and kitchen scraps from restaurants, supermarkets, and butcher shops to transport them to farms, zoos, and animal feed producers. And there is BlackRock-owned Vanguard Renewables, which is building co-digesters for farmers so they can turn manure and food waste into clean energy. And there’s Electro-Active Technologies, which is building a modular system to convert food waste and renewable electricity into affordable, renewable hydrogen, aiming to power cities. And there is RTS to build a custom waste plan for the enterprise’s specific needs.

As you can see, there are tons of ways to reduce food waste and turn that negative imprint into something positive. This article names just a few, but hopefully it’ll make you look differently at those turkey scraps next time – and consider upcycling them.

Images taken in part from: Rawpixel

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