‘Ugly’ Produce is Finding a Second Life on Shelves of Major Grocery Chains

Fortune | June 7, 2021

Food waste comes in all shapes and sizes: banana peels, expired goods, not-expired but perceived-expired goods, and so much more. Of all food produced in the United States, 40% of it is thrown into landfills, where it rots and emits methane, approximately 15.1 percent of total methane emissions in 2019. Generated throughout the entire spectrum of the food supply chain, grocery retail is responsible for 14%. Grocers like Walmart, Albertsons, Kroger, and Amazon have major waste reduction initiatives, some to achieve zero waste in the coming years.

Causes of surplus

  • Fully stocked shelves despite lack of demand. It is more appealing for a customer to shop a well-supplied store, however surplus products sit on the shelves for too long.

  • When products on shelves near their “Use By” date, Albertsons says it marks down prices or offers buy-one-get-one deals to encourage customers to buy those products. More than 20% of food waste at home is a result confusion of food expiring versus products simply not at their prime.

  • Items like blemished fruit and vegetables are not easily marketable to the customer, therefore not placed on shelves in the first place.

A 2018 report by the EPA shows about 33% of grocer waste was landfilled, 21% was donated, 14% was sent to animal feed, and 14% went to recycling centers to be converted into fertilizer, compost, or renewable energy.

With newer technologies, like refrigerated trucks, food donations from these grocers are increasing annually. In 2020, Albertsons stores donated 83 million pounds of food to Feed America. Among its substantial food donations every year, Walmart provides millions of dollars to build better infrastructures to accommodate reliable efforts to prolong freshness. Whole Foods is rolling out Grind2Energy technology, that grinds basically everything to recycle food that is no longer safe for consumption.

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