Executive Update

A Focus on Food Waste

In this session, industry experts discussed the issues surrounding food waste and cross-industry partnerships and innovations companies are implementing to address that issue.

According to research, approximately 34 million tons of food waste is generated annually in the U.S. and 14 percent of that waste is going to landfills. At the same time, 49 million Americans are food insecure, including one in five children.

 “We’re facing a perfect storm in terms of food security and hunger, where we’re looking at a sustained high need at the same time we’re seeing a decline in major food streams,” explained Erik Olson, senior vice president of government relations at Feeding America.

So what can companies do to tackle these numbers?

 “Simply raising awareness will help lower waste,” suggested Michael Hewett, director of environmental and sustainability programs at Publix Super Markets. “When you raise awareness at the store level, you will see your generation of this kind of waste go down significantly. If we could raise awareness and address just 15 percent of that 34 million, we could erase 5,100,000 tons of food waste that we could capture, reduce or reuse with very little effort.”  

Michael Erlandson, vice president of government affairs at SUPERVALU said that his company is focusing on a zero waste policy. “We’ve recently announced that two stores in California, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, are on a journey to be or have essentially achieved zero waste.”

Today’s definition of zero waste is defined loosely at 90 percent, “but at SUPERVALU, we’ve decided that’s not good enough, zero needs to be zero. “

However, as these systems become more efficient, less food is being donated to food banks, so companies are looking for additional opportunities to donate.

To ensure that the industry is coordinating efforts, GMA and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) have teamed up to create a cross-industry committee that has designed a three-year initiative project to help better understand and reduce food waste in America. The two main goals of this initiative are to reduce food waste in landfills and increase donations to food banks. The committee plans to conduct a comprehensive survey of the sources and causes of food waste, identify public policies that could expand the diversion of food from landfills to food banks and identify new technologies and industry practices that support the other goals.

To find a compromise between the challenges and the opportunities surrounding food waste, the panelists agreed collaboration is their best bet. “The challenge for all of us is to look for better ways to communicate what we’re all doing,” suggested Hewitt. “Partnering with other organizations is the best way to share the information companies need to help manage these issues.”