How innovation backs up the journey to zero waste

Solving food waste is at once a conversation around greenhouse emissions, world hunger, AND smarter business. Here, ethics and efficiency go hand in hand. Food waste is one of the most powerful indicators of how intelligent a brand’s supply chain is, showing both their efficiency and their relationship to the surrounding community.

The shelf life for food and beverage is far shorter than that of other manufacturers, but the drive to tackle food waste is proving to be a chance for brands to reshape what they represent and what they provide to consumers.

What strategies are leading the push for zero food waste?

Optimized Supply Chain

The quicker to shelf, the less time to spoil. That’s step 1 in avoiding food waste, and it requires a fully optimized supply chain supported by a tech infrastructure that gives you vision into every point in the chain.

IBM’s blockchain-powered Food Trust serves just such a purpose. With heightened visibility across supply, Food Trust lets companies increase food safety and freshness through an intimate understanding of provenance:

  • exactly when and where their food comes from
  • how it gets from source to consumer
  • where inventory depletion occurs

An enormously pressing issue is surplus, which is emerging as both a rallying cry and an industry to itself. How can retailers ensure that excess produce and perishables go to use?

Grower-Grocer Partnerships

Close collaboration between retailers and food producers is unearthing powerful solutions. Riffing on the AirBnB model, Full Harvest links buyers directly to farmers and growers who need to offload excess produce. It’s like a digital cottage industry of surplus, resulting in 10 million pounds of “ugly” and excess produce being sold (equal to saving more than 600 million gallons of water).

Goodr is a food rescue app that, in partnership with delivery service Roadie, uses blockchain to help businesses donate surplus food to people in need. Blockchain serves as a shared record that lets them track food waste from pickup to donation and observe patterned mistakes like overordering.

Rationalized Assortment

Food waste can result just as much from poor assortment as surplus. Too much variety can land retailers in an irresponsible place, as certain items simply won’t perform as well as others, causing their incremental sales to fail to justify volume on shelf.

A simplified assortment, supported by AI and advanced analytics, can be a very good thing. And the closer you can tie assortment to measurable demand, the better.

Breadbot is the definition of real-time assortment. The company has created a bread-baking oven that doubles as a vending machine in-store, producing inventory in sync with consumer demand and limiting product to a small array of choices that customers actually want. It’s a low-footprint solution that brings the supply chain directly to the store. And, it has broader implications for how food might be provided rapidly onsite in the case of food shortages around the world.

More-Mileage Merchandising

The restaurant joke may be that Saturday’s halibut is Tuesday’s cioppino, but restaurants are now doing far more than this, tackling food waste with a more holistic understanding of local ecosystems. What can they teach retailers?

At Hunky Dory restaurant in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, anything that can’t be reused in the restaurant goes to a community garden for composting. Not to mention,there’s a big emphasis on cross-pollination of ingredients between bar and kitchen.

A number of Pittsburgh restaurants have pledged a commitment to returning oyster shells to the Chesapeake Bay, where they can improve water quality by filtering out silt and sediment and help support the reef’s marine life. In an inventive completion of the loop, scientists actually repopulate these recycled shells with baby oysters.

Plenty of grocers are already exploring merchandising solutions that find new uses for leftovers. Excess ground meat can be used for meatloaf and sandwiches, bones for soup broth, bread for croutons at the salad counter.

As stores look to replatform for evolving consumers, partnering with other brands for creative usage of space—coffee shops, eateries, cooking classes, in-store bars—they have more opportunities to understand their supply as a shared resource.

The World of Food Surplus Can Be Your Oyster

The sooner grocers see excess food as an opportunity, the more they’ll have a hand in defining new retail landscapes. Waste is increasingly being seen as a potential source of energy, not just in the form of donated food but nutrients to be recycled in fertilizer and biofuel. The race is on to invent technologies that do it best, but much of the innovation happening in ethical food supply relies on transparent, supportive collaboration between humans.

How can a more transparent supply chain drastically cut back on waste for your business? Find out here.

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