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Supermarkets and grocery stores are significant contributors to the 34 million tons of food waste in landfills that release harmful methane gas into the environment. Some of the many key elements that lead to the generation of this excessive food waste include consumers’ demand for an abundance of fresh products, confusing sell by dates, damaged shipments of products and over-purchasing resulting in additional spoiled and non-purchased foods. It's a complex issue that involves complicated logistics, costs significant amounts of money and greatly impacts our environment.
As landfills continue to be filled to capacity and companies increasingly generate an excess of food waste, a growing number of jurisdictions are starting to implement restrictions and bans. Sustainable alternatives are no longer just a social responsibility; they are becoming a mandatory requirement. However, alternative methods may prove to be valuable beyond just protecting the environment.
While there are a few sustainable alternatives that have emerged over the past few years, none have been able to capture environmental, financial and operational data. The emergence of new technologies, such as on-site aerobic digestion equipment, offers unprecedented transparency into the waste industry by providing accurate, concise and useful analytics in order to facilitate changes for organizations and ultimately the environment.
Big data provides us with information that allows us to better address business problems. When executives are empowered with real-time detailed analytics, they can more efficiently benchmark their performance metrics, implement best practices and make company-wide adjustments to improve efficiency and profitability.
Food waste in the grocery store
The same is true with food waste in a grocery store. What if a grocery store had information that helped them improve efficiencies in the areas of purchasing, operations, and labor as well as disposal? What if they were able to easily obtain critical information, such as which departments were generating the food waste, what days and times are most frequent, which location is generating the largest amount and who was the supervisor on duty? This type of knowledge could help improve supermarkets’ bottom line margins, while helping them become environmentally compliant as regulations become more abundant.
For example, what if a CEO of a grocery store with multiple locations in several different regions receives a weekly report that details how much food waste each location is producing? The CEO can use this information to evaluate the most inefficient stores by looking at management practices including purchasing, procurement and stocking.
One regional grocery store has been reviewing the data on multiple on-site digesters to identify and adjust staffing inefficiencies as well as monitor the utilization to ensure that the food waste was being disposed properly and not through traditional sanitation collection. Overall, the utilization of the digester technology has more than tripled.
Another way grocers can use the data is to evaluate seasonal trends. Perhaps they notice that certain seasonal items are being wasted in their stores in the southwest. Using these measurements, they can start to implement better purchasing practices that will allow them to increase their margins.
There is limited collection and data gathering being done regarding the specifics of food waste from within the industry. Whether public or private, statutory or federal, data is either inaccurate, proprietary or non-existent. Fortunately, there are a few products and services now available that can provide this kind of insight giving accurate, concise and useful analytics to not only eliminate food waste but also help improve the efficiencies of your entire business.
By empowering generators of food waste with the transparency and knowledge that will allow them to make smarter decisions, they can learn how to effectively reduce their waste. Data is the key to understanding what is being produced and what is being thrown away.