The scale of the problem

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, one-third of the food produced for human consumption does not make it to our plates which equates to 1.3bn tonnes of food per year. Food waste occurs along the entire food supply chain which results in financial losses and waste of natural resources. Approximately two-thirds of all food waste is avoidable and the food we waste consumes an estimated 20% of fresh water, fertiliser, cropland and landfill volume.

The UN Sustainable Food Development Goal has a specific target to halve food waste by 2030. The position of Retailers in the food systems means they play a role in significantly influencing upstream and downstream handling of food.

Reasons for food waste at retail & distribution level

  • Recalled product
  • Damaged food
  • Spoilage
  • Unsold stock
  • Short-dated product

Consumer pressure favouring responsibly sourced products is a key driver forcing corporates to reduce waste. For the retailer, managing inventory to avoid waste and stocking high quality products with long shelf lives are increasingly seen as competitive differentiators by customers.

Types of food waste & causes:

Food that contributes to food waste includes, 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat. Some of the main causes are:

  • Delivery issues- delayed deliveries or overstock
  • Regular replenishment of stocks leading to customers to select the most recent products
  • Poor demand forecasting- results in overstocking
  • Expired shelf-life- past the best-before or use-by date
  • Visual defects/damage to the food item itself or the packaging- make it unsellable



  • Food loss and food waste carry a huge environmental burden. Lost and wasted food means a loss of all the resources that go into making it, such as water, soil, energy and more. All the wasted food generates between 8% and 10% of the world’s total human induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In comparison, the global aviation industry produces 2-3% GHG. This use of natural resources drives up costs, inflates food prices and weakens.


  • Reduction in food waste would result in economic benefits such as lower disposal costs, reduced overhead purchasing, labour costs and tax benefits from donating foods. For example, in developed countries food waste affects pricing policy as a result, people with minimum incomes who cannot afford to spend more money on food are most at risk. The price of food is also largely linked to environmental causes.


  • Even though enough food is produced in the world, nearly a billion people suffer from hunger and malnutrition. According to the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, up to 50% of edible and harmless food is unnecessarily depreciated and thrown away in European homes, supermarkets, restaurants and along the entire food chain every

Preventative measures & solutions

1. Use-by-dates

The UK retailer Co-op is scrapping use-by-dates on own brand yoghurts in a bid to reduce food waste. Approx. 42,000 tonnes ($127.6 million worth) of edible yoghurts are thrown out by UK households each year. By removing the date labels, will help prevent unnecessary waste as testing has shown that yoghurt is safe to the consumer the use-by date. The date range on food products is a significant reason that it is wasted in households.

2. Monitor use-by dates

Chowberry- is focused on ending food waste in Africa by connecting families in need to local supermarkets with nearly expired foods. Stores use the Chowberry app to scan the barcodes of food products. Once uploaded, the app informs retailers when the products have reached the “best before” date and automatically offers those products at a reduced price through the app and the accompanying retail website. The closer the products are to the latest possible selling date, the lower the price is. For more economically unstable families, the app helps provide more affordable and consistent food options without causing retailers to lose profit.

3. Data tracking

Escavox innovative start-up that offers sensors for data collection to help growers, retailers and manufacturers to manage their supply chain more efficiently. The sensor increases visibility throughout the supply chain as the hardware travels with the food. Also, aids in inventory management to reduce excess inventory and handling, cut down on the number of perishables

 Senoptica sensor technology reduces global food waste by non-invasively monitoring MAP in real time. Check out our solution here!

4. Food redistribution

Tonnes of food that goes to waste each year is still edible. Companies, charities and individuals can all benefit from the redistribution of surplus food to those who need it.

Food companies can often save money by donating food rather than paying the per tonne landfill tax and disposal cost. For example, a law has been introduced in France which has banned French supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food and must donate it to charities or for animal feed. Also, social enterprises such as Food Cloud connects food retailers with charities so they can efficiently donate good food that would otherwise be thrown away.

A recent phenomenon, Dumpster Diving, has been taking on food waste at the retail level in the US and EU. Rob Greenfield and Caitin Weich are just two dumpster divers, who are foraging through supermarket bins to collect perfectly good food. A whole third of the food that goes into our supermarkets ends up in the bin and will never even make it to consumers’ homes. These two dumpster divers are raising awareness of the huge amounts of unnecessary food supermarkets dump.

5. Law

Policy can play a positive role in reducing food waste and Ireland’s National Waste Policy 2020- 2025, commits to developing a Food Waste Prevention Roadmap that provides the pathway to help achieve Ireland’s goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.

Food wastage is a problem throughout the food chain, and action needs to be taken at all stages to ensure that all stakeholders can benefit. A third of the food we produce never gets into our mouths. Either it is not picked up by farmers during harvesting, is lost when being transported to shops, or is simply thrown away. Each of us plays our role as supporters and reduces waste. Prevention should be particularly emphasized, as preventing wastage is more advantageous in all respects than following it up. In fact, the less food wasted, the fewer the related impacts would lead to an improvement in the sustainability of the entire food service sector.

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