Reducing food waste may not seem like the sexiest topic, but it has growing appeal to many food distributors.
The reasons for action are compelling. Approximately 34 million tons of food waste are generated each year in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Much of that represents food sent to landfills that could have found better uses, including feeding the hungry and other beneficial alternatives.
Kroger has achieved big reductions in food waste, in particular with perishable product that would have once been discarded but is now increasingly being sent to food banks, according to a recent presentation by David Dillon, president and CEO. The company’s 2011 Sustainability Report cited composting programs for produce that can no longer be sold, and pointed to plans to pilot such initiatives in all Kroger divisions.
Publix has focused for some time on “improving the collection and donation of fresh food, and the reduction and recycling of organic waste,” said Michael Hewett, manager of environmental services. T
he company has embraced better forecasting, tracking and management, and also pursues recycling and composting options that are licensed, permitted and cost-effective, he said. Earlier this year Publix began a partnership with Feeding America to help provide food to consumers in need.
The potential for even wider gains lies in the industry’s new coordinated effort to tackle the waste problem. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute recently unveiled a three-year initiative focused on reducing food waste.
The activities will include identifying problems and solutions, including those in the policy arena. The co-chairs of the leadership committee are Hewett of Publix and Bob Branham, director of customer sustainability, General Mills. Other organizations represented include Wegmans Food Markets, Supervalu and Ahold USA.
It’s not too late for others to join this effort. Executives and companies can still become involved in the important subcommittee work, noted Meghan Stasz, GMA’s new director of sustainability.
The efforts outlined here amount to giant steps forward. The problems won’t be solved overnight, and there’s danger in unrealistic expectations. However, things tend to happen when such an important cause appears on the industry’s radar.