Imagine if you can save the world by saving your time and saving your money. While reducing your carbon footprint while helping the food value chain to optimize itself - and even create new green growth. Too good to be true? Well, the fight against food waste nails it. And it's becoming big business.
New food products made from surplus produce. Mobile apps which help you buy cheap surplus food from restaurant's buffets. Supermarket offers on cheap food nearing its expiry date. And large marketing campaigns by the retailers and the industry to show off their work to stop wasting food. The fight against food waste is a hot topic - and it's no longer reserved for the hippie activists.
We are in a great hurry. In just 13 years, the human population's global food losses and food waste must be reduced by 50%. This deadline is made by the United Nations as a new UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. Fortunately - and despite of Donald Trump - the many green initiatives are growing stronger, in the USA and all across the world. In 2011, the UN FAO launched the global SAVE FOOD initiative - and today the fight against food waste has gained great momentum.
Recently, I was invited to participate in the European Commission's new EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste, a 4 year long network and research project which will focus on helping the world to deliver that goal. On the Platform's first meeting in Brussels, I addressed that it's important to take a look at the entire value chain - and especially focus on the prevention.
Prevention versus symptomatic treatment
A food company donating a truckload of surplus cookies which passed its expiry date to a local refugee center creates many good headlines in the media. But if the very same food company creates better forecasting to prevent the overproduction of surplus food to begin with, the media is not interested. Why? Apparently, the symptomatic treatment of food waste is far more sexy than the prevention itself.
As the Minister for Environment and Food of Denmark Mr. Esben Lunde Larsen wrote in one of his opinion editorials: it's good and important to donate surplus food to charities, but the best case scenario is to reduce the amounts of surplus food to begin with.
We need to take a look at the overproduction of food.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one third of the world's produced food is either lost or wasted. Imagine, theoretically, a possibility of massive global green growth, if we put that lost of wasted food into business.
From food waste to big business
Today, a lot of produce never leaves the farms, because the customers have no interest in buying an ugly tomato or a wonky looking cauliflower in the supermarket.
But if the farmer would have a chance to sell his "ugly" surplus produce to a food company, which produces "rescued vegetable soups" and doesn't really care about the aesthetics of vegetables, it will not only prevent the loss of food, but also give the farmer a new source of income.
The "rescued food" companies are already starting to populate the European market. Although it's not mainstream yet, new food brands such as like Snact, Misfit Juice, FoPo Food Powder, Rubies in the Rubble, Wonky, Kromkommer, Barstensvol, OverLekker and Spare Fruit are gaining popularity.
The "rescued food" products will also make it easy for the consumers to fight against food losses and waste. The only thing a consumer should do is to buy the product and eat it - every bit. And with the raising awareness on food waste, many food companies can even create a new branding out of it.
The stop wasting food trend is growing all over the world, lately with food waste supermarkets and food waste restaurants. The consumers are soon made ready to buy the "rescued food" products - and it will create a new growing mainstream market.
If we take a look at the food service and catering industry, a lot of "wonky" produce can be put into good use. When you eat your salad, it doesn't really matter if the vegetables were perfect or odd looking to begin with - it's all gets chopped and ends in a salad bowl. A local hospital can make a deal with a local farmer to buy the farmer's "wonky" produce, probably at a reduced price. The farmer cam earn money on the produce which he previously tossed away, the hospital can make delicious meals to its patients and can brand itself by being a green hospital, which supports stop wasting food.
Nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark
In many media coverages all over the world, recently in National Geographic and BBC, Denmark's has been crowned as the European leading country in the fight against food waste. Within 5 years, Denmark's national food waste has been reduced by 25%. That's quite something. That's a good start.
Many Danish supermarkets are starting to sell good food, which is nearing its expiry date, at reduced prices. That means that supermarkets waste less food and earn money on the food, which otherwise could have been tossed in the bin - and customers can buy food at a reduced price and thus avoid food waste. Many Danish supermarkets brand themselves on these initiatives, labeling them "Save Food" of the "Stop Food Waste" bargains. This trend has become quite popular, and perhaps the international supermarkets should take a closer look at the model for Danish retail industry.
Today, restaurants, especially with buffets, can get the food waste apps such as the Danish Too Good To Go app, counting over one million Danish and international users, which makes it easy for the customers to buy a takeaway box from the restaurant's buffet at a cheap price. Thus, the restaurant avoids food waste, the customer gets good, cheap restaurant food and the food waste is avoided. Another Danish app, YourLocal, concentrates on the surplus food from the supermarkets, and highlights the good local offers, helping the local supermarkets avoid food waste and earn money on the food, which otherwise would have been wasted. Both apps have recently received substantial financial funding counting several millions of DKK.
Reducing food waste helps food insecure families
Latest surveys show that Danes love the good cheap close-to-be-expired food, and thus our NGO Stop Wasting Food initiated the national SAVE & HELP campaign in collaboration with Danish People's Aid and the Danish KIWI retail chain.
SAVE & HELP targets to reduce food waste and at the same time helps vulnerable and food insecure families in Denmark. SAVE & HELP campaign is in every KIWI supermarket in Denmark and contains stickers on good food items, which are nearing their expiration date. Every time a customer buys a product with SAVE & HELP sticker, KIWI Denmark donates 1 DKK to the Danish People's Aid. It allows customers to fight food waste while helping vulnerable and food insecure families in Denmark. The SAVE & HELP campaign gives consumers a good and easy incentive to buy good food nearing its expiration date, while helping supermarkets to reduce food waste while helping the most vulnerable people in Danish society. It's an easy, tangible and measurable way to make a difference in everyday life on several levels.
In the first month of campaign, the SAVE & HELP already generated 200,000 DKK (28,575 USD) to the Danish People's Aid's work - and the campaign is widely popular. Today, every retail chain in Denmark has more of less a food waste reduction strategy - and the fight against food waste has become the retailers' competition parameter.
The unavoidable food waste
While we really must avoid and reduce food waste at every level, sometimes the food waste in unavoidable. Another annual initiative started by our NGO is the Christmas Surplus, which targets the supermarket's Christmas surplus food, that they cannot sell after Christmas. Thus, the Stop Wasting Food, Danish People's Aid and REMA 1000 Denmark retail chain teamed up and with the help of 500+ volunteers collected and delivered free surplus food worth of 4,000,000 DKK (571,505 USD) from 245 REMA 1000 supermarkets to 10,000 food insecure Danes. The charity event attracted a lot of Danish and international attention and the Charity Dinner in November last year hosted by the Minister for Environment and Food of Denmark Mr. Esben Lunde Larsen, Stop Wasting Food and Danish People's Aid to support the Christmas Surplus was attended by His Royal Highness Prince Joachim of Denmark and Her Royal Highness Princess Marie of Denmark as well as 180 prominent guests. The Charity Dinner fundraised 180,000 DKK (25,717 USD) to help the food insecure families.
It is needless to say, that the focus of food waste has grown so big, that it won't go away. But just because the industry, retailers, entrepreneurs, politicians, NGO's and many others have started a global war on food waste, it doesn't mean that we the consumers are off the hook. We are all in this together - we are all a part of this giant global problem.
And fortunately, we are all a part of the solution.