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Food companies need to watch their waste

By Jenni Spinner , 27-Jun-2013
Last updated the 27-Jun-2013 at 14:29 GMT

A study examining various food-related sectors shows achievements and room for improvement in food waste diversion.
A study examining various food-related sectors shows achievements and room for improvement in food waste diversion.

A study conducted by a group of food industry associations shows that food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice operations have numerous opportunities to cut waste.

The analysis, titled “Analysis of US Food Waste among Food Manufacturers, Retailers and Wholesalers,” was conducted by consulting firm BSR and commissioned by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a cross-sector initiative comprising the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the National Restaurant Association. The data looked at various sources of food waste, based on information from food manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers.

Waste sources and challenges

Regarding food manufacturing, the report discovered that the manufacturing process leads to unused ingredients, unfinished product, trimmings, peels and other unavoidable food waste. Large volumes of food and relatively few manufacturing sites create economies of scale that enable manufacturers to recycle waste at a high rate. By contrast, retailers’ food waste consists of finished products suitable for donation; having numerous, far-flung locations and diverse product offerings make food waste diversion more of a challenge for retailers than food processors and manufacturers.

The survey, in addition to showing differences in food waste challenges between different sectors, also showed common barriers to diverting food waste. Those shared concerns included transportation, liability, and lack of recycling options.

Creating opportunities

Susan Kujava, industry relations director at consumer packaged goods firm General Mills and FWRA co-chair, said the organization’s primary goal (in this study and other efforts) is to reduce food waste by addressing waste’s root causes, and create ways to divert waste for other purposes.

This new data not only helps us better understand how industry currently is managing food waste, it gives us a benchmark against which we can measure our progress,” she said.

Among the figures uncovered in surveying food manufacturing businesses:

  • Food manufacturers indicated they were able to divert nearly 95% of their food waste from landfills to donation and recycling.
  • Approximately 73% of food waste diverted was used for animal feed.
  • Food makers donated 700 million lbs (about 318 million kg) of edibles.

Retail figures

The study also showed retailers donate, recycle and compost a significant amount of waste while outlining opportunities for improvement. Michael Hewett, director of environment and sustainability programs for retail chain Publix Super Markets (and co-chair of the FWRA) said the findings are encouraging, but the imperative to do more is clear.

“It’s important to find more ways to keep food and food waste out of landfills, identify the challenges that prevent us from doing so, and develop responsible policies to assist in these efforts,” he said.

The analysis is built on self-reported survey data collected from food manufacturers and grocery retailers/wholesalers. A total of 13 manufacturers (representing 17% of US manufacturing sales) and 13 retailers/wholesalers (representing 30% of US sales in that sector) responded. Data reported covered the year 2011.

A copy of the report is available through the FWRA website here.