Emaciated, hopeless, and living in dire poverty, almost a million people worldwide are silently starving. At the same time, the average westerner enjoys the luxury of discarding tons of overripe fruit on a daily basis. With 45% losses, fruit and vegetables break the infamous record of highest waste rates (Source: Swedish Environmental Authority). Bananas, in particular, form the largest proportion of fruit wasted every year. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, in the UK alone 83,000 tons bananas are lost every year, often because of aesthetic reasons.
Seriously, guys. We have a problem.
Apparently, we all know it, as well. According to a recent survey by the consulting company Mintel, almost 40% of the consumers in the United Kingdom agreed that waste reduction efforts are important when evaluating the ethical credentials of brands.
New revenue streams from waste and surplus food are being created every year. For instance, using waste milk to create textile fibres, or wasted coffee grounds to produce bio-fertilisers. If nothing else, this proves that investing in reducing the amount of food discarded and communicating it well to consumers can be a responsible and profitable investment for many companies.
A lot of food is wasted at the manufacturing point and, in my opinion, one of the first logical things to do is to understand the amount of food wasted during operations. This can help estimate the value, in terms of revenue losses, that the food industry can potentially gain back. Spotting where and how to act is then another important step to reducing the amount of food wasted. For instance, in a factory producing potato mousse, most waste probably comes from the discarded peels. The good news is that potato peels can be effectively turned into packaging material or fertilizers, as some companies have recently done.
Another smart idea for the food industry is to motivate their employees to become more aware of how fundamental their contribution to this important cause is. Motivating employees to help reduce waste is a proven way of reducing costs and boosting productivity. Through a series of fun, interactive activities, employees can understand the financial and environmental impacts of workplace waste, recognize and measure waste, including its financial cost, and generate solutions to reduce waste and put them into practice.
Smart packaging solutions will obviously play a major role in the fight against food waste. Examples of this include reviewing the choice of date mark on products that currently carry a ‘Use By’ date, and moving to a ‘Best Before’ where there is no food safety risk. Don’t you agree that by knowing if your food is still edible, you can really save money?
Reviewing the availability and relative pricing of smaller packs for products that are wasted in high volumes can also help consumers choose a smaller package and reduce the amount that risks being discarded.
Finally, what would probably be the most effective and logical thing to do would be to inspire consumers to reduce the amount of food they waste. School campaigns, as well as TV ads, could be put in place to make people more aware of simple strategies that reduce the amount of food that goes into their bin every day. Consumers could be informed that pineapples, for instance, should lay on soft surfaces in order not to cause a loss due to the pressure of their own weight. Or that tomatoes are cold-sensitive and should be stored at room temperature, which also gives them a better taste. Finally, most people don’t actually know that many foods can be frozen and used when time is more convenient. This list surprisingly includes eggs and olive oil, among others.
The amount of food that is lost every year is definitely a scandal, but there are lots of opportunities both for existing companies and for new ventures to turn this problem into a hugely profitable opportunity.