Supermarkets: Underrated Hub of Food Waste

Food Loss

Every year, enough food is produced to meet the growing demand of the world’s population yet one-third of food is wasted which could have been consumed otherwise. The issue of food wastage is not only confined to addressing global hunger, but it also has to be dealt 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 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, the food retailers and supermarkets could play a vital role when it comes to managing food waste and implementing preventive measures for waste reduction.

Supermarkets and Food Waste

Food waste are often created in supermarkets
Relative to earlier stages of the food supply chain, the supermarkets do not have a substantial contribution towards production of food waste but these markets need to be considered while quantifying and managing food waste because of their importance in global food provision. Business Insider highlights, the grocery stores account for 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.

Why is Food Wasted in Supermarkets?

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, the 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 which 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 discarded food item. This is related to another food waste issue in supermarkets, overstocking. In order to ensure consumers are buying, retail store often display a large quantity of food, however, the amount that is actually bought is a small portion, the leftover products are often discarded.

Solutions for Supermarkets to Prevent 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 environmental 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 which can extend the storage life of a few food items by two to five days without refrigeration. The supermarkets could make a 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, but 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. The similar approach could be adopted by supermarkets for local customers.

Donating to Food Banks

Donating food could be one way to prevent 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.


Supermarket and fruits
Besides above mentioned solutions, the improved storage conditions and use of technology – installment of machine learning apps and sensors, can improve the likelihood of reducing 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
On my own ethical journey since 2010. Always happy to learn more!