"What I find really interesting about sustainability thinking, as an innovator, is that it provides a channel to new innovation and creativity that you just don’t have access to unless you’re not thinking in systems."
—Carly Smolak, Forager Project
Part 1: Food waste 101
- About 40 percent of food in the U.S. gets wasted, from farm to fork to landfill—there is waste throughout the supply chain. Together, that’s waste of about one-fifth of the water, cropland and fertilizer that gets used to produce the food—or, from a climate perspective, 37 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Food is the No. 1 product going to landfills today.
- When you throw out one hamburger, it’s the equivalent of taking a 90-minute shower; one tomato, a 5-minute shower.
- There are easy steps, followed by more complex ones, that companies interested in reducing their “waste print” can take.
- It’s also important to optimize products and packaging for consumers. It’s a value proposition: When your customers are wasting food, they’re not getting the most value out of your product—and may not want to buy it again.
Part 2: Brand and retailer perspective
- Forager Project was throwing away the pulp leftover from the juice production, arguably the most important part of fruits and vegetables. We wanted to get that to people in a new and unexpected way, and the result was the pressed vegetable chips. Now, we’re buying from the waste stream of other juice companies to feed the chip production.
- If we weren’t trying to figure out what to do with our waste stream, we probably wouldn’t have thought of this product. Sustainability thinking provides a channel to new innovation and creativity that you don’t have access to if you’re not thinking in systems. This boosts our brand loyalty among consumers.
- Forager’s commitment to organic and plant-based goes the farthest to reducing the company’s carbon footprint.
- Sprouts follows the EPA's hierarchy for reducing food waste: Feed people first, through retail or donations to local food banks. Whatever can’t be donated to food banks goes to animal feed facilities; and the rest goes to composting facilities.
Part 3: Where to start
- The first step is just observing. Start with the largest waste streams that are easiest to capture and figure out some alternative uses.
- Really get to know how your consumers are using your products. There may be ways to get creative on the packaging so they can use your products better.
- Be prepared: You’re never going to match one business to the waste stream of another business. You have to figure out how to supplement your supply chain, and that can be a challenge.
- For retailers, there are some financial incentives to reduce food waste—but it’s also the responsible thing to do. That also builds brand loyalty.
- Food expiration codes are a huge source of confusion for consumers. Some effort to standardize the language used on labeling would go a long way toward reducing household food waste, to distinguishing between food safety and food quality.
This session—Waste Not, Want Not: Tackling Food Waste in Your Company—was recorded at Natural Products Expo West 2018. Click "download" below to access the presentation slides.