By : Owen Wild
September 03, 2015 12:00 PM
"Between producers, sellers and consumers, Americans are throwing out a third or more of our food, and the amount that we throw out has increased by around 50 percent since the 1970s,” said comedian John Oliver, tackling the topic of food waste on a recent episode of Last Week Tonight.
During Oliver’s 17-minute segment, he touched on the wasteful nature of Americans and their reckless relationship with food. "This is not a story about the food we eat, it's about the food we don't eat, because there is a surprising amount of it," said Oliver. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, up to 40 percent of food in the United States is never consumed, amounting to $165 billion annually in waste. That’s enough food to fill up 730 football stadiums. Globally food waste exceeds $1 trillion, which represents a quarter of all food produced for human consumption, according to a report by the World Resources Institute.
So, where does all of this wasted food go? Landfills, of course. And, the methane gas that’s emitted from rotting food is a significant cause of pollution in the United States. All while there are 50 million Americans who live in “food-insecure” homes, meaning they do not have adequate access to food at all.
Picky eaters like my young children aren’t entirely to blame. The majority of food waste stems from within the supply chain where food is lost at every step from the manufacturer or farm onto the DC, and to the retailer. Some is due to food damage, such as not properly maintaining product temperatures to ensure freshness. The bigger issue we are seeing stems from food retailers and restaurants not properly managing food inventory to align with consumer demand. Grocery stores often overstock displays of fresh produce to give an impression of abundance, leaving foods at the bottom unsellable before they spoil. Many grocers and convenience stores are also guilty of making too much ready-to-eat food or overstocking their deli cases, believing consumers won’t buy food from a near-empty display. Simply reducing overall food inventory in the store is not the answer— as lost sales are due to out-of-stock which accounts for more than $30 billion in lost sales in the United States every year.
So what can be done? Inaccurate forecasting and inventory planning are the primary blame for out-of-stocks, overstocks and markdowns in food and grocery retailing and distribution. Product assortments in food retail consists of fast moving and slow moving consumer goods, as well as perishables, all of which have very different demand signals and replenishment cycles. Managing these differences well is one of the top challenges in the food retail industry. Adopting sophisticated demand-driven replenishment systems can have a significant impact on this problem, both for store replenishment and for warehouse replenishment. Examples from the U.S. and Europe show these solutions improve the availability of products by 60% to 90% and reduce the spoilage of food by up to 50% within the first year of their use, resulting in an average sales increase of two percent for the retailer.
As for the rest of us, as consumers we can also help reduce food waste. Oliver’s resolution to the problem—“eat uglier fruit, take expiration dates with a pinch of salt and no longer worry about getting sued by high-powered lawyers representing the hungry.” This means we should buy bananas that have a few brown spots or peaches that aren’t perfectly round, and consider donating any expired foods to local food banks versus throwing it away. And personally, I vow to keep working with my kids so that they’ll clean their plates and eat more leftovers.