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Food Waste: Achieving meaningful reduction

Just as there is no single cause of fresh produce waste, there is neither a single party nor a silver bullet solution to eradicate the problem.

For the fresh produce industry to achieve the challenging 50 percent waste reduction goal, a strong commitment within and across organizations is needed. Leaders must pursue continuous improvement of practical supply chain solutions, including those discussed below.

Maintain the cold chain
Great effort and resources are expended to grow high quality produce. Similar efforts are required to ensure that proper atmospheric conditions are consistently maintained to protect product integrity and food safety.

“Perishability of fresh produce is always a challenge,” says Cindy Jewell, president of Jewell Marketing, BB #:369225 and former vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms. Given the high risk of losses throughout the supply chain, she notes, “a greater sense of urgency is required.”

Every cold chain partner that touches the product has a role in waste reduction: transportation providers must use clean, quality equipment, maintain proper in-transit conditions, and consistently deliver goods on-time.

Packinghouses must have adequate facilities to cool and stow goods at appropriate temperatures; just as retailers need to avoid receiving bottlenecks that leave pallets sitting in ambient temperature stockrooms.

Jeff Brandenburg, president of JSB Group, LLC, highlights the importance of supply chain partners working together at critical product handoffs. “Shipping and receiving must happen quickly and in an environment where conditions don’t change dramatically.”

Adopt new technologies
Waste reduction efforts must go beyond product flow improvement efforts. Better inventory planning and product protection are also required. Fortunately, both are being bolstered by technology advancements.

On the planning side, new tools are being developed to make forecasting more effective at the retail level where significant loss occurs.

“There’s a careful balance between being in stock and having too much to the point of having shrink,” notes Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics. “Retailers have implemented shrink management and inventory optimization programs to help them achieve that perfect balance of having choice, while minimizing shrink.”

Cost-efficient product protection innovations are also needed to pursue waste reduction.

“Packaging certainly plays a key role in shelf life extension,” Brandenburg explains. “When you’re creating packaging, you have to consider the physiological properties of the produce.”

The use of appropriate options inside packaging—modified atmosphere, antimicrobials, ethylene management, or moisture control—can help reduce spoilage.

Compared to fresh meat, produce packaging opportunities are limited. “Many items are not packaged at all, nor does packaging extend shelf life,” Roerink states. “Instead, technologies like Apeel, which extend shelf life with a natural coating, can be a great way to reduce waste.”

This is an excerpt from a Supply Chain Solutions feature in the November/December issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the full feature.

Dr. Brian Gibson is executive director of Auburn University’s Center for Supply Chain Innovation and a former logistics manager.