Retailing Responsibly to Reduce Food Wastage

“The world has enough for everyone’s needs, not everyone’s greed.”  – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. How true are the words of the Mahatma in a world full of two extremes. On the one hand, you have extreme prosperity, while on the other, extreme poverty. It is an appalling stat, that 795 million people (or 1 out of every 9 people) the world over does not consume enough to lead a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, a single visit to the food court of any major mall, will definitely tell you otherwise. Massive food wastage, sometimes entire meals going to waste, because some amongst us are picky eaters, and others have eyes that are bigger than their stomachs!

With food retail being one of the largest constituents of the retail trade, it is little wonder that NGOs, governments and people as a whole are looking towards brilliant ideas in this field to come from this sector in order to help reduce food wastage. 

The worldwide picture:

“According to, “an average citizen living in Chicago, wastes as much as 273 pounds of food a year.” Let’s say that this is a number we’re all more or less comfortable with. Now according to the WFP website, nearly one out of six children in developing countries is underweight. Even one pound of food per person saved the world over will be able to ensure decent nutrition for these children. If that doesn’t rankle in a person’s mind before they waste food, nothing else will,” says Cheryl Fernandes, an economist working with the World Food Programme.

Like Fernandes, a growing number of people have started to question the wanton wastage of food by restaurants, retail establishments, governmental bodies and of course individual citizens. “It makes very little sense questioning governmental wastage, when each one of us wastes so much food,” says Suchit Mavani, convenor of an NGO that deals with destitute children. “Along with controlling our own wastefulness, it is also up to us to find ways and means to minimise, if not completely eliminate the wastage of food from our daily lives, and the commercial sphere as well”, he reiterates.

The United States annually wastes around 223 million tonnes of food, while sub-Saharan Africa, seems to produce 230 million tonnes of food every year. Sensing this huge discrepancy in between the needs of the few and the needs of the many, the United Nations World Food Programme has challenged the developed world, led by the United States to reduce food wastage by about 50% by the year 2030. A challenge which the US Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have readily accepted.

Obviously, food retail, being one of the biggest components of the problem as it currently lies, is being targeted extensively in order to tap this problem at the source. This challenge now comes as an opportunity for retail, to become part of the solution. The use of efficient food supply chain management, educational programmes, discounting techniques like sale and of course better consumer engagement through the use of both big data and social media are a huge part of food retail’s drive towards a sustainable future.

Beginning with the basics

Denmark. One of the world’s least populous and most technologically advanced nations, is also the world leader in cutting down on food wastage. An attitude of consuming only as much as one can finish, is something that Danes have been raised with. A waste-not, want-not culture, and a love for recycling is also something that the Danes seem to have perfected. In the words of Selina Juul, the founder of the Stop Wasting Food Movement, “We target consumers, if we need to end the global food waste scandal, we need to start with ourselves. Stopping the food waste is a very positive scenario—you can save your time, your money, and at the same time help the environment. And you can even affect the industry to sell ‘ugly’ produce such as wonky fruits and vegetables. Because we the consumers can make this demand—we have an incredible power.”

As the pioneers curbing food wastage, the Danes have the following tips that we believe can be used by retail and common people alike, to seriously alter the way we consume food and of course curb food wastage.

For the food retail and hospitality sector:

  • Active social media marketing campaigns about the ills of food wastage and active promotion of shopping in moderation, awareness of food discounts on ‘Giffen goods’ and marketing spends on consumer awareness and food wastage
  • Heavier in-store marketing spends on foods that are about to expire, goods with faulty packaging, and best before dates
  • Better inventory management to enable supermarkets and retail establishments to determine which food item is being wasted the most and therefore order less of it
  • Rebranding ‘ugly’ foods, i.e. food packaging that either isn’t pleasing to the eyes or is defective, as ‘deals of the hour/day’ and crafting marketing support around these
  • Discounts to be offered at restaurants to patrons that order their leftovers to be parcelled and doggy bagged
  • Incentives to restaurants to adopt better cold-chain management practises and technology to minimise wastage
  • The introduction of a wastage tax to be added to the bills of diners in restaurants, who waste food, and don’t ask for a doggy bag

For consumers:

  • Ignore ‘expiry’ dates on canned food, as this is the true immortal food amongst all others, as long as it looks and smells alright it is good to eat
  • A best before date doesn’t mean that the food item in question cannot be consumed after the aforementioned date
  • Buying a greater quantum of ugly foods, that are either packaged improperly or are targeted as defective
  • Always insist on the placement of the earliest ‘best before’ dates up front and centre where you can see them, as opposed to the back of the shelves
  • Always order a doggy bag in a restaurant if you think that the food you’ve placed an order for is going to go to waste
  • Agree that a wastage tax be applied to your bill, if you waste a majority of what’s on your plate and not ask for a takeaway

Responsible Retail and Food Wastage:

While citizens can implement ‘large scale’ changes to the way they purchase and consume food, corporations will have a harder time doing it. Ask Deepak Lalwani, an entrepreneur with a grocery dotcom, “from buying produce at a fair price, to quality control, to transporting the produce, first to our storage facilities and from there, our customers, there is bound to be a bit of wastage. Even here we are trying our level best to minimise the loss of any fresh produce. After all produce lost is money lost. But with an operation the size of mine, it can be a daunting problem. Here’s where technology and the will to do something that no one else is doing will help you make a difference.”

The use of technology in harvesting, warehousing and transport, before disbursal and eventual sale is of vital importance. Superior refrigeration technology, the use of apps, better warehousing and responsible transportation can often be an expensive affair. “Here’s where,” says Lalwani, “the nexus of corporate and consumer come in handy. As retailers the economies of scale in order to automate the entire process of shopping, transportation and the logistical nightmare it poses, and of course air conditioning doesn’t come cheap. Here’s where consumers need to accept slightly higher prices as the consequence of adopting newer technology. Here’s where more and more companies, in fact retail as an entity, needs to come together and formally enforce the adoption of best practises as mandatory for the survival of the business as a whole.”

Consumers on the other hand have mixed reviews about the industry’s proposal. Higher prices, aren’t always the thing a middle class homemaker wants to hear. Here’s where education and awareness that needs to be generated. For instance not everybody knows, or cares about the fact that our consumption patterns can have a major impact on the environment? After all with 21% of all landfills being food waste, isn’t it time we got together and did something to make a difference about it? The time of passing the buck between consumer and industry has passed. There are clear definitions now in place as to what can and should be done, by either party in order to reduce food wastage and as such, these measures must be adopted and followed to the letter.

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