Major supermarket chains are updating their technologies and operating procedures in a drive to reduce food waste and enhance operating efficiencies, according to recently released case studies by the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment (PCFWC).
One retailer is West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s, which has generated a 15% reduction in known expired shrink by utilizing inventory management software throughout its stores — an effort which has helped store team leaders improve product rotation and identify soon-to-be expired product for markdowns.
Raley’s also took the step of having each banner store donate food to members of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, via regularly scheduled donations of two to seven days per week. The company also trained all new employees to ensure they understand what food is eligible for donation rather than disposal.
The company also regularly piloted new donation protocols. Pilots included:
- Placing food rescue containers next to food waste bins to make it easier for team members to stage potentially donatable food for consideration
- Indicating where to place surplus food with improved back-of-store signage
- Testing employees on food rescue guidelines
Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. has been using storewide waste scorecards that direct corporate strategy and keep sustainability and diversion top of mind at all levels. The company also optimizes container sizes and load weights to reduce disposal expenses by making sure the containers are as full as possible during each pickup.
In addition, Sprouts is improving produce freshness by reducing the distance between stores and distribution centers, and helping customers reduce food waste at home by providing such resources as bulk bins, recipes, and storage tips to enhance food management skills.
A third case study looked at the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce food waste in grocery outlets. That study found that two large retailers had a 14.8 % average reduction in waste per store across 1,300 outlets by using AI solutions to improve order accuracy, adding that AI also works for smaller chains.
According to the study: “All pilot stores saw positive results in terms of reduced shrink and greater profits that more than covered the cost of the AI solution. With the amount of food waste saved in the pilots, 26,705 tons of CO2e emissions from landfills were prevented.”
Labor efficiencies, meanwhile, increased by up to 20% per store via reduced ordering time, better shrink management, and restocking improvements, all of which resulted in increased food waste prevention and greater sales and higher margins.
Key challenges across the board included organization buy-in, traditional retail mindsets, and seasonality.
The Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment said it plans to publish additional case studies in early 2023 on topics like the potential for e-commerce solutions to reduce grocery retail waste; employee engagement campaigns to identify low/no-cost food waste reduction in food manufacturing; and food waste prevention and low-waste contracts in hospitality.
The PCFWC is a public-private partnership with some of the nation’s largest food businesses working with local, state, and provincial governments with the goal of preventing and reducing food waste along the West Coast.