Innovative Ways Retailers are Handling Food Waste


Imagine going to the grocery store and buying 10 bags of food, only to drop four in the trashcan on your way out. It sounds crazy, but that’s essentially what’s happening in the U.S. each and every day. According to the FDA, America wastes as much as 40 percent of its food supply, much of it through perishable food that winds up expiring before it’s purchased. For grocers and other food suppliers, retail food waste represents billions of dollars in lost profits. In fact, in a report using data from 2010, the USDA estimated food loss costs at about $161 billion – and that was almost a decade ago.

As startling as those figures are, food loss isn’t just about lost profits. It’s also about lost opportunity to redirect food to hunger relief programs. With more than 130 billion pounds of food wasted every year in the U.S., the sheer volume of opportunity cost is sobering. Plus, the FDA notes food waste is by far the largest single category of waste that finds its way into municipal landfills. The labor, energy, and water used to produce, package, and transport that food represents additional losses that can never be recouped. All of the energy involved in harvesting, packaging and distributing food that’s wasted generates in excess of 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – making it a major contributor to greenhouse gas emission problems. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations notes that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, exceeded only by China and the U.S.

Federal initiative to reduce food waste

Back in 2015, the EPA, FDA and USDA joined forces to create a food waste reduction initiative, with the aim of coordinating activities between all three agencies to help educate businesses and consumers about the critical importance of reducing food waste at every stage of production and consumption. After four years of analysis, this spring the agencies signed an agreement with ReFED, Inc., a multi-stakeholder nonprofit, to establish a formal plan. The goal: to reduce consumer and retail food waste by 50 percent over the next decade. The U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste (FLW) Reduction goal aims to “help feed the hungry, save money for families and businesses, and protect the environment,” according to a statement from the EPA.

Although the formal agreement was signed this past April, ReFED has been working with food retailers and producers, investors, foundations, and other groups to implement food waste solutions at every level. ReFED’s “A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent” was produced in 2016, identifying 27 cost-effective food waste solutions to achieve that goal. According to ReFED, these solutions would reduce food waste by 13 million tons annually, generating $100 billion of cumulative economic value over the next decade.

To create its roadmap, ReFED sought input from major food retailers across the U.S., including Wegmans, Whole Foods, Kroger, Safeway, Publix, and others. Of the 27 options included in the plan, waste tracking and analytics, standardized date labeling, and improved inventory management were identified as among the most effective from a retailer perspective. Other options, like “trayless” dining and “smart” packaging that keeps food fresh longer, draw from changes in consumer purchasing behavior and advances in food science. The key take-home of the roadmap: In order to reduce food waste at the retail level, store managers must stop thinking of food waste as “a cost of doing business” and look for ways to capitalize on the profits these products can provide.

FreshIQ™: ADC’s solution to retail food waste

Improved inventory management earned high scores from many retailers and other ReFED stakeholders, with a focus on managing and tracking inventories of fresh food and other perishables in real-time. As part of its own mission to help retailers cut back on costly food waste, Applied Data Corporation (ADC) includes Inventory/Waste Capture as part of FreshIQ™, ADC’s integrated fresh item management platform. FreshIQ™ was developed to manage the entire lifecycle of fresh and perishable foods, from ordering to stocking to POS transactions, providing in-depth analytics that help retailers make decisions aimed at maximizing profits and reducing waste.

ADC’s FreshIQ™ platform comprises of five integrated systems:

  • Recipe Management calculates the true cost of prepared food items, including wasted food, while gathering nutritional data of the product ingredients. It then generates legally compliant ingredients, nutritional facts and labeling panels for your fresh items.
  • Label Printing offers centralized label printing capabilities across all your printer and scale devices. Scale data management also improves data quality, allowing you to easily update product pricing information across devices, change label formats and designs, record prepared food production and even track potential sources of unknown loss.
  • Inventory/Waste Capture gives you a comprehensive view into your store’s inventory in real-time, with easy to use tools for tracking balance on hand inventory, mark downs, reworked inventory, donations and throw-aways, giving users analytics for analyzing sources of waste.
  • Production Planning significantly reduces food waste by providing simple to use food production plans throughout the day. Powered by multiple internal and external factors such as historical sales, mark downs, waste data, as well as seasonality, weather, events and more; Production Planning has reduced daily food waste up to 50%.
  • Fresh Ordering integrates a production forecast into the ordering process, providing a significant reduction in food waste. Ordering quantities are based on anticipated demand and consider a need for lead times and daily ordering deadlines.

ADC is committed to helping retailers set and achieve their own food waste reduction goals, while also enabling them to operate more efficiently and more profitably, based on data that reflects real-time sales and consumer tastes and demands. To learn more about the FreshIQ™ platform and how it can help your store reduce food waste, visit