Supermarkets is the Underrated Hub of Food Waste

Food Loss

Every year, more than enough food is produced to meet the growing demand of the world’s population yet one-third of food is wasted. The issue of food wastage is not only confined to addressing global hunger, but it also has to be dealt with to conserve the natural resources which are utilized and often exploited during production, processing, storage, and transportation of the produced food. The challenges associated with food wastage can be reduced by managing the processes involved in the food supply chain. The most prominent factor which contributes towards the problem falls at the consumer level, which is considered to be located towards the end of the supply chain. In the developed countries, 40% of food waste and loss occurs at retail and consumer level as estimated for the same level accounted for 31% of wasted food supply in US (worth equivalent to $162 billion) for the year 2010. Thus, food retailers and supermarkets could play a vital role when it comes to managing food waste and implementing preventive measures for waste reduction. It is important to understand the relationship between supermarkets and food waste, to then see what we can do to fix such a global problem. I am sure many of you have wondered what happens to all the food leftover from the supermarkets, so in this article, we are going to take a look at supermarket food waste.

Supermarket Food Waste

Supermarket food waste (a lot of discard fruits and vegetables that ends up in the landfill)
We might have all heard of stories about supermarket’s food waste, how they would throw away heaps and heaps of fresh food at the end of the day. Even though tons of food is being wasted before the food actually reaches supermarkets, that doesn’t mean supermarket food waste is not a big deal. As mentioned, 40% of food waste happens at the retail/consumer level which includes supermarkets, it is important to understand supermarket food waste and how much we are actually wasting. Business Insider highlights, the grocery stores account for an annual 10% of US food waste. Likewise, UK supermarkets have been found to be wasting 240,000 tons of food annually. Similarly, the recent findings of Japan’s food waste and loss show, the country produces 6.43 million tons of food waste a year and the food retail sector (including supermarkets and convenience stores) has a share of 10% in it. Furthermore, a report mentions that 1.7% of total food which reaches Dutch supermarkets goes to waste. The escalating trend of food being discarded or thrown away by the retail sector and supermarkets can be addressed by highlighting the causes linked to the issue and the measures which can prevent or minimize the associated challenges. Supermarket food waste is a much bigger issue than one would imagine.

Ways that cause supermarket food waste

In the retail sector (including supermarkets, grocery stores, and wholesale) the food waste occurs as a result of multiple reasons. Among others, the shorter shelf life of the food products could be a one factor contributing to the issue and is regulated by processing method, packaging, and storage conditions of the products. The shelf life of a food product governs the time period during which the product remains fit for consumption purposes and does not lose its nutritional value. For example, fruits, vegetables, and bakery items can spoil within hours and are prone to bacterial or fungi attack, if they are not properly stored. Associated with it, the physical conditions of the supermarket (temperature and humidity) also play an important role. For example, frozen and canned products, such as fish and meat, need to be stored at optimum temperature for quality retention. Likewise, packaging can prevent cereals and pulses from getting spoiled. In addition, the demand for a perfect product in terms of shape, color, texture, and size, etc. also adds to the severity of the problem. A consumer does not want to buy a food that has an improper appearance, irrespective of the fact that it may still be edible or has not lost its quality. For example a banana might have a brownish peel but the fruit inside it is still fresh, the consumer would be reluctant to purchase it and it would ultimately become part of the discarded food item. While supermarket does play a big role in these type of food waste, it is important to note consumer education can help alleviate such supermarket food waste issues. This is related to another supermarket food waste issue, overstocking. In order to ensure consumers are buying, the retail stores often display a large quantity of food, however, the amount that is actually bought is a small portion, the leftover products are often discarded. While supermarket food waste problems can not be solved by retailers alone, but by understanding the issues, we can look at the bigger problem of food loss and food waste.

Fresh fruits in supermarket (overstocking - supermarket food waste)

Solutions for Supermarkets Food Waste

But, the above-mentioned causes can be certainly addressed given the fact that the supermarkets are realizing their role in not only the food supply system but also the responsibility they have towards their communities. The possible solutions to prevent food waste at supermarkets are listed below:

Bio-based Protection Against Food Waste

Innovative solutions such as coating vegetables and fruits with bio-based coating can improve the product’s shelf-life by slowing down the rate of oxidation and water loss, thus preventing the product from getting rotten or spoiled. The bio-based coatings are the materials derived from natural materials, such as fruits, and are not only edible but also environmentally friendly. One such service has been introduced by Apeel, a US-based Company, which is on a mission to extend the shelf-life of perishable food items by using protective peels extracted from peels, seeds, and pulp of fruits and vegetables. The team claims that the protective peels help keep moisture in and oxygen out, thereby extending the product’s life by twofold. Similarly, BioFreshPak is another biodegradable polymeric film that can extend the storage life of a few food items by two to five days without refrigeration. The supermarkets could make use of such innovative ideas to minimize their food waste.

Sustainable packaging in Supermarket

Transportation and storage could shrink the shelf-life of food products. Though most of the items such as rice, cereals, and pulses require the use of plastic bags to keep them stored for a long time, it adds to the environmental footprint. The problem of shorter shelf–life coupled with unsustainable packaging can be solved through sustainable packaging designs. For example, the use of jute bags could be a viable alternative to plastic packaging, as it not only helps in reducing carbon footprint but also improves the shelf-life of various food items such as coffee and wheat. Similarly, in Thailand and Vietnam, banana leaves are in use for wrapping vegetables. A similar approach could be adopted by supermarkets for local customers.

Educate Consumers About Supermarket Food Waste Issues

The problem of overstocking is very pressing and is presented in many supermarkets. One way to help reduce overstocking is to educate the consumers, make them understand that overstocking is not the best choice. While this solution is a long shot and definitely something that needs to be reinforced, like this article. Supermarkets can always contribute and make a difference by making statements to help reduce food waste and reduce the stock of food. Just like the idea of charging plastic bags, simple and direct messages about the issues of overstocking can easily educate consumers and together make better choices.

Donating to Food Banks to Reduce Supermarket Food Waste

Donating food could be one way to prevent supermarket food waste. The supermarkets are most likely to improve the social impact by feeding the poor or underprivileged members of their communities by partnering with the trusts and foundations which are working for the cause. This would not only help in preventing food from being wasted but also helps a supermarket contribute towards the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger. Several supermarkets such as Tesco are already setting up the example by feeding millions of people. In addition, there are many organizations that are on food rescue missions, where they try to prevent food from being discarded as food waste, such as City Harvest’s Food Rescue. There are many other ways where we can help reduce supermarket food waste, however, for those, we need to together and make changes to how we consume and how the industries are working.


Supermarket and fruits
Besides above-mentioned solutions, the improved storage conditions and use of technology – the installment of machine learning apps and sensors, can improve the likelihood of reducing supermarket food waste. Supermarket food waste is just a tip of the iceberg. Food waste overall is a complex and big issue, and to fully understand it, we need to take a look at the different levels of food waste. Luckily, there are many brands that are trying their best to upcycle food waste and overall reduce food waste.

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Jacobs, Harrison. “Why Grocery Stores Like Trader Joe’s Throw Out So Much Perfectly Good Food.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2020.
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Author: Monica Chang
Director of Ethical Choice
I am passionate about finding amazing sustainable and eco-friendly products and sharing them with more people. Interesting in plastic-free, reduce waste, and DIY.