Did you know that we waste about a third of all food produced for consumption each year? That’s about 1.3 billion tonnes of food.
And did you know that almost one billion people go hungry? The United Nations reports that the world population should be expected to grow from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion people by 2050.
This makes food security and food waste an even more concerning issue.
Now, this is probably not something we think about on a constant basis—especially if you’re not part of the one billion that go hungry.
But the stats don't lie: allowing this easily avoidable practice to go on when a billion people starve to death everywhere around us should not be acceptable.
What food waste actually means
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste refers to the “discarding or alternative use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization also listed the following as some of the ways food is wasted:
- - Fresh produce that is perceived as not in their best shape, size, or color is immediately removed from the supply chain during sorting operations.
- - Foods that are close to, at, or beyond their expiration dates are often discarded by retailers and consumers to “avoid foodborne illnesses.”
- - Large quantities of perfectly edible food are often unused or thrown out.
Wondering how much food we waste?
Food waste in numbers
The average UK family throws out £470 worth of food. This is food that could still have been eaten, yet is thrown out instead. On the other hand, an average American wastes $640 worth of household food each year.
Each year, 50 million chickens are wasted in the UK alone.
According to an article by the Guardian, approximately 45% of all fruits and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, and 20% of meat and dairy products are wasted by suppliers, retailers, and consumers every year.
What is up with all the food waste?
Let's look at things from another angle: when we waste food, we’re not only wasting the food itself but also all the resources that were used into growing or making it.
When we put it this way, food is actually more than what is on our plates. It represents labor, water, energy, land, and all the natural resources that were used to grow it. And wasting it represents the misuse of all of these valuable things.
But why do we waste so much food?
Researchers from The Ohio State University conducted a survey to find answers. Here’s what the survey revealed about the reasons behind so much food waste:
- 68 percent of respondents said they believe that throwing away food after the expiration date on the package passes reduces their chance of catching foodborne illnesses.
- 59 percent believe making food waste is needed to make sure that meals are always fresh and flavorful.
- 51 percent of respondents said they believe that it would be hard to reduce household food waste.
- 42 percent said they don’t have the time to worry about it.
- 53 percent admit to being aware that they waste more food when they buy in bulk or in large quantities during sales and promos.
The survey also revealed that:
- 77 percent feel a general sense of guilt when throwing food away.
- 58 percent claim to understand that throwing food away is bad for the environment.
- 42 percent believe wasted food is one of the major sources of wasted money.
Food waste has bigger and worse impacts than simply being a waste of money and, well, food. This practice affects our environment and contributes largely to our carbon footprint.
Food waste is a climate change issue
Food waste is usually overlooked as one of the biggest contributors to climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the 30 percent that is the global food waste contributes 8 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
Technology to the rescue
When it comes to solving the issue of food waste, innovation can not only save the day, but all the days to come.
Some big players in the retail industry such as Walmart and Whole Foods have been urged to pay attention to food waste and commit to selling even imperfect produce.
However, even if retailers are willing to sell imperfect produce or products that are close to their expiration dates, it’s still up to consumers if they’d buy it. Of course, consumers would choose better-looking produce and products with later expiration dates— this is just them being practical.
But there is something retailers can do to encourage consumers to buy blemished produce and nearly-expiring products—incentivizing them with lower prices!
Now, with all the products being offered in a single retail store, can retailers even track each and every product’s expiration dates? Will it be an efficient use of time and human resources to have each produce checked?
Of course not.
Thankfully, there’s an innovation in retail technology that can help eliminate food waste for good.
Electronic shelf labels, or ESL, are digital tags that display product information on store shelves. Do you know that the price tags you see on grocery shelves that are made of paper? ESL replaces those tags.
One retail practice the majorly contributes to food waste is product labeling. Some printed shelf labels are inaccurate. “Best by” dates are misinterpreted as expiration dates and, as a result, they are discarded before their actual expiration dates.
These labels are not standardized or regulated in many countries—manufacturers set these dates themselves to make sure that all goods are fresh. Now, ESL technology can help with this by streamlining all the price labels.
This technology is being slowly adopted across retail stores globally. ESL help retailers track inventory, control pricing, and, most importantly, reduce food waste.
Markets and Markets published a study entitled “Electronic Shelf Labels Market by Product (LCD, Segmented, & Full Graphic E-Paper), Communication Technology (RF, IR, & Others), Components (Display, Battery, & Others), Store Type (Hypermarkets, Supermarkets, & Others), and Region - Global Forecast to 2020.” In this study, they estimated that the electronic shelf label market is estimated to grow from 186.5 million dollars to 399.6 million dollars by 2020.
They also revealed that the ESL sector is primarily driven by the demand for real-time product changes and label pricing accuracy—mostly in North Americans and European markets.
How ESL works
Smart labels, also known as electronic shelf labels, can be used for countless applications.
It can be used to optimize real-time management, stock and cost minimization, and, ultimately, reduce food waste.
Electronic shelf labels are a technology used by retailers to display the prices of the products that they sell in their stores. Typically, it’s what customers see attached in front of the shelves in stores. It doesn’t only display the prices but it can also show additional information about the products, such as sell-by dates, nutritional value, or product information.
Electronic shelf labels are controlled via a central control system. Through this system, retailers can manage stores, commodities, prices, inventory, and other information in real-time.
ESLs have displays that can be read under any type of lighting, are available in different styles and sizes, and their batteries last up to 5 years!
Whole Foods and Target in the US are now using ESL software to pre-input their store layouts that display their shelving sequence. This makes it possible for deliveries to go directly from the distribution warehouse to the store floor when before, retailers used to need another set of manpower to move the goods from the warehouse to the store floor.
Electronic shelf labels are available in varying sizes so retailers can choose the best options according to their needs.
And because SOLUM is the only ESL provider that has their own factory and assembly line, clients can even make requests for special features or changes for their tags.
ESL is the way to digitize and centralize your retail store’s processes to reduce food and paper waste. Plus, it helps you free up valuable time from your store personnel so they can do more valuable things with their time at work.
Investing in this innovation can help reduce excess inventory and handling, and, more importantly, on perishables that go to waste.
How can ESL technology help solve food waste?
Electronic shelf labels are starting to get recognition as one of the most effective ways to improve sustainability in the retail industry by helping to avoid food waste right at the point of purchase.
Dynamic pricing and ESL will help retail stores markdown produce or any type of products, especially perishables, at any time of the day.
Most retail stores are still counting on their store assistants to manually replace the price tags on the shelves to markdown each item that’s approaching its sell-by date.
This can lead to last-minute or, most of the time, late price drops which may result in customers turning down the new offer, no matter how good of a deal it is, as items may not look their best at this point.
And no one’s to blame. With the large number of products each retail store holds, there’s a very low possibility that store assistants can change each label on time. And as for the retailers, it would be hard for them to change each item’s prices as often as they’d like.
But with this innovation that is electronic shelf labels, retailers can make unlimited changes, on any item, in a snap.
Speed plays an important part here. The faster the retailers can adjust the prices of their products, especially perishable items, the higher the possibility that consumers will purchase the product and, therefore, less food waste and better margins.
What retailers can do to prevent food waste
Retailers can play a huge part in preventing food waste if they’d choose to.
Most consumers are already willing to make responsible buying choices.
Technologies are ready and available for retail owners’ use.
So, how can retailers maximize this technology to help the environment and actually benefit from it?
There are a lot of ways to do that.
In the past, there are retail practices that indirectly and unintentionally contributed to the amount of food waste. Retail stores used to reject or discard “wonky” fruits and vegetables as no consumer would purchase them.
But in recent years, to help curb the food waste crisis, some big retail chains are experimenting with selling fruits and vegetables that don’t look their “best” shape or size at a discounted price.
Another way is that, with the innovation in electronic shelf label software, some retailers are already getting into a trend to optimize stock management. This trend is called “happy hour” wherein retailers offer price drops on perishable items just before closing time.
A win-win situation for retailers as they free up space for new deliveries and they still get their ROI’s, and for customers, as they get the goods at reduced prices.
Win-win-win if you include the environment as a benefactor, as it sees less food wasted.
Thanks to this technology, real-time price adjustments can be done in just a matter of seconds.
Retailers, both big and small, can make their contributions to help the environment.
Aside from this innovation available to them, they also have direct contacts with farmers, consumers, and processors which means they can influence each facet.