ReFED: Tackling food waste is an $18.2B opportunity for retailers
- ReFED, in partnership with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, has released a new Retail Food Waste Action Guide aimed at expanding voluntary food donation and organics recycling. "Food waste is an $18.2 billion opportunity for grocery retailers," ReFED Executive Director Chris Cochran told Waste Dive. "There’s a business case here."
- The guide is seen as a way to build on ReFED's new advisory role among large retailers by outlining the profit potential and feasibility of various available solutions. Upstream concepts such as dynamic pricing, date label standardization and advanced inventory management were described as some of the most effective. Recommendations were based on input from Ahold Delhaize USA, Albertsons Companies, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Target, Wegmans, Walmart and Whole Foods.
- ReFED also outlined the potential to nearly double the amount of food recovered for donation by utilizing new trends such as ride-sharing apps and blockchain for chain-of-custody records. Recycling options such as composting or anaerobic digestion were described as one of the most effective ways to reduce landfill volume, though less profitable from a retail standpoint.
Retailers in areas with existing organics recovery and diversion policies are already working through this transition, but that isn't the case for many others. By releasing this document, ReFED emphasizes that wasted food doesn't have to be a burden and can instead be an opportunity. The nonprofit estimates the cost of wasted food is more than double the profit potential from the original product. Yet in boom times the retail industry could afford to ignore it.
"When retail was growing really consistently, we just kind of assumed certain things were built-in costs of doing business, and food waste was one of those," said Cochran, who previously worked as Walmart's senior manager of corporate sustainability before joining ReFED in 2017.
As consumers have become more interested in fresh food, major grocery retailers have been forced to rethink their approach. Cochran sees good potential for food waste reduction — while also utilizing "smarter packaging," to reduce other waste — through meal kits and other prepared options. As for what to do about in-store prepared items, which still cause a lot of liability consternation among food banks and retailers, Cochran thinks clearer policy and more innovative solutions can solve the problem.
"We really think that's there a huge opportunity, but it’s going to take a completely different model of food rescue and distribution," he said.
That model has begun to grow around the country, with new ideas and technology innovations coming out on a regular basis. Though as recognized in the food recovery hierarchy, there will also still be a need for recycling options to capture value from whatever material isn't edible for people or animals. Financing that infrastructure can be difficult, unless encouraged by policy mandates, but ReFED has seen progress in areas without regulation and encourages large retailers to "embrace regionalism" by utilizing recyclers in the areas where they're available.
Looking ahead, there will also be multiple opportunities to expand mandates or incentives in 2018. New York is once again considering a statewide food waste bill, New Jersey is seen as a possible target under its new governor and the 2018 Farm Bill is seen as a key opportunity to update various national policies.
Follow Cole Rosengren on Twitter