5 Steps Suppliers Can Take to Prevent Food Wastage

Food crates full of rotten and damaged produce behind a facility unable to prevent food wastage.

In 2023, food suppliers are looking at ways to improve the supply chain and prevent food wastage. Each year, the U.S. wastes 30% to 40% of its food supply. Overall, Americans waste approximately 80 billion pounds of food annually, accounting for about $161 billion in economic losses. The USDA Economic Research Service estimates that 31% of these losses occur at the retail or consumer level. Another 40% occur further up the supply chain, often as a result of:

  • A lack of labor in the fields to support harvests
  • An overemphasis on “attractive” foods
  • Over-purchasing
  • Improper storage and handling during transport

Resource reduction is one way everyone can take part in reducing food waste. This includes reducing the volume of surplus food generated and diverting scrap foods to animal feed and compost to create nutrient-rich soil for the next yield.

Inverted triangle chart of the food recovery hierarchy

Image Courtesy of EPA

Key Takeaways:

  • A waste audit can help you identify how much, what, and why you generate food waste. The EPA offers free tools to help you conduct these audits.
  • Two key challenges to preventing waste along the supply chain include ensuring full participation in the chain and collecting the best data to identify the largest sources of waste.
  • Over 1.3 billion tons of food get thrown away every year. A lot of it is thrown out simply because it is “ugly.” You can use these foods in your products to prevent food wastage.  
  • Compare purchasing orders, modify products to increase customer satisfaction, and evaluate processes to reduce shrink.

5 Steps Suppliers Can Take to Prevent Food Wastage    

Food wastage has widespread consequences from one end of the supply chain to the other. Food retailers experience substantial losses, and farmers lose revenue on foods they cannot sell. Food that spoils during transport wastes fuel, and suppliers can experience food loss during production, processing, and transportation. Regardless of where in the supply chain food waste occurs, the impact is devastating. Let us take a moment to discuss precisely how suppliers can participate in food recovery initiatives.  

1. Conduct a Waste Audit   

Learn what is going through your facility by measuring how much, what, and why you generate food waste. This can help you develop effective food waste prevention strategies and identify avoided food waste and money savings. To track waste generated and evaluate next steps, EPA offers free tools.

Infographic of the impact of food waste and food loss.

Image Courtesy of World Economic Forum

2. Integrate Data Analytics   

Two key challenges to preventing waste along the supply chain include ensuring full participation in the chain and collecting the best data to identify the largest sources of waste. There are opportunities for efficiency across the food supply chain, from lean packaging to improved cold chain technology to post-harvest processing techniques. By using data analytics to evaluate where the waste will most likely happen in the supply chain, suppliers can reduce the amount of food that can spoil or go to waste pre-harvest due to consumer miscalculations.

While applying a single method of improvement can have an impact on revenue, increasing supply efforts will not increase demand. It can only lower prices unless similar steps are followed throughout the chain. In other words, food suppliers may work with logistics providers to increase storage capacity during transit. Yet, if the retailer does not apply similar cold storage practices or share point-of-sale data, most of the excess foods will continue to go to waste (due to a lack of demand). There is no point in having extra food supplies in storage if 50% go to waste, but if the retailer knows that this food is going to waste, managers can reduce the cost of the product by 25% the day of spoilage, thereby preventing waste. 

3. Leverage Technology 

By executing new best practices and sustainability programs and leveraging technology, suppliers can meet USDA’s goal of reducing national food waste by 50% by 2030. Real change involves manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers working together to improve supply chains. By doing this, they can create an environment that supports the continuing movement toward a society where food waste is a thing of the past. 

In the restaurant industry, experts get together to discuss how to reduce food waste using technology. Food suppliers can use the experts’ insights from the video below to understand ways to modify their processes to satisfy the needs of restaurateurs. You can take this knowledge and apply it to other customers. 

4. Incorporate “Ugly” Produce 

Millions of people worldwide struggle with food insecurities, and many more suffer from malnourishment. Yet, 1.3 billion tons of food get wasted every year. A third of them are thrown out simply because they are considered “ugly” – most food retailers will not display or sell foods that are not aesthetically pleasing. 

To reduce food waste, you can use malformed and imperfect fruits and vegetables as ingredients or make them the focus of your product line. Consider advertising on your labels that you use less-than-desired foods in your campaign to prevent food wastage. This can help catch the attention of environmentally conscious consumers and those who are open to trying “ugly produce.”

5. Implement Reduction Habits

Reducing food waste requires implementing better habits throughout your facility. After identifying the patterns and causes of food waste in your waste audit, consider setting guidelines and goals and training your staff. Some strategies you can implement may include the following:

  • Compare purchasing orders with customer purchasing habits. 
  • Modify products to increase customer satisfaction and reduce uneaten food. 
  • Evaluate your manufacturing and handling practices to reduce shrink by preventing product damage in your production line. 
  • Be creative with surplus and excess food, and use them to create new food products.     

Learn What Initiatives Will Prevent Food Wastage in the Future

Addressing significant causes of food waste and loss will demand substantial supply chain reform and changes in producer, supplier, and consumer behavior. Food waste is not a new problem, yet initiatives taken today will impact the food supply chain of the future. When we come together to discover more sustainable food supplies and address wasteful practices, we can prevent food wastage more effectively moving forward.  

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