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Food Waste: Promote cross-chain collaboration

The issue of food waste is bigger than any single organization or link within the supply chain.

Small reductions can be made through individual initiatives, and coordinated efforts focusing on the primary sources of food waste will be needed to reach the 50 percent goal.

Cindy Jewell, president of Jewell Marketing, BB #:369225 and former vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, recommends analysis of product movement throughout the entire distribution system.

She believes that a baseline understanding of food waste numbers across the industry is key to identifying the biggest gaps and challenges.

This will then help with buy-in for solutions to achieve results. Jewell likens the concept to collaborative efforts for recycling plastic and eliminating packaging waste.

The cross-chain collaboration efforts initiated during the pandemic can be carried over to waste reduction.

“During those mid-March weeks and beyond, retailers, wholesalers, and grower/shippers started to communicate to understand each other’s pain points and really worked together to keep supply on the shelves,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics.

Roerink believes there are similar opportunities to take competitive issues off the table, and work together to tackle produce waste across the supply chain.

Develop contingency plans
Success in cold chain maintenance, forecasting, and collaboration will go a long way toward solving the waste problem, but unanticipated disruptions and problems will occur.

Thus it is important for each partner in the supply chain to establish contingency plans for prime risks. This will minimize being caught off guard without an alternative to landfill disposal. Rather than discarding mass quantities of lower grade produce, growers should pursue alternate sales channels.

Jewell provides a great example: “I work with a farming company that grows and ships fresh strawberries. Each harvest team member has a bucket attached to their fresh harvesting cart and places the less than perfect fruit into the bucket rather than dropping it on the ground.

“They receive an incentive for this extra step and the fruit is directed to an in-house processing facility where the berries are processed and sold into the market frozen,” she explains.

Wholesalers and retail distribution centers should identify partners who will accept produce shipments rejected for cosmetic, shelf life, or minor temperature issues.

An excellent option is to donate the product.

Martha Henk, executive director of the Food Bank of East Alabama, notes that most food banks have adequate refrigerated capacity, networks of partners, and plenty of demand to distribute these larger quantities of fresh produce.

The donated shipments typically contain more uniform, longer shelf life products than those received from individual stores. Retailers should establish product disposition protocols for fresh produce similar to what they do with consumer returns.

Shorter shelf life products can be repurposed as salad bar and deli items. Another option is to discount these items in-store or sell them via various mobile phone applications.

Outdated items can be composted or turned into energy using anaerobic digestion rather than dumped into landfills.

Of course, end consumers must also think about how to best use up their fresh produce purchases. Fresh items that cannot be consumed in a timely fashion can be frozen, used as ingredients in recipes, or composted.

Industry partners can help by publishing best practices for storage and by educating consumers about the types of defects that do not affect taste or safety.

Food waste ROI
Food waste is an industrywide problem in the fresh produce supply chain.

Companies along the supply chain can either view it is an unresolvable burden or as an operational challenge to conquer. Retailers that take the latter approach, and adopt formalized shrink reduction programs, enjoy lower than average product loss, higher margins, and greater velocity, according to Roerink.

These financial benefits, combined with the societal value of feeding the hungry and the environmental wins from minimizing product waste, should encourage every CEO and supply chain leader to passionately pursue fresh produce waste reduction.

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.