What a waste: Industry tackles $27 billion in food wasted in Canada

Study suggests grocers can help reduce food losses while boosting their bottom line

To hear food loss expert Martin Gooch tell it, consumers are the main source of the $27 billion in food that is wasted annually in Canada.

But his new study, “Developing an Industry Led Approach to Addressing Food Waste in Canada” suggests Canadian grocers can play a big role in helping to reduce those losses, and boost their bottom lines in the process.

“There are significant opportunities for businesses to streamline their operations, reduce food waste, and increase profits,” said Gooch, a partner and the CEO of VCM International, a consulting firm specializing in food waste reduction and traceability.

VCM and the Western University’s Richard Ivey School of Business were commissioned last fall by the Provision Coalition to consider the food waste problem in Canada’s agri-food industry, and suggest solutions.

Managed by the Network for Business Sustainability, the study featured an international literature review on food waste, a workshop, and interviews with more than two-dozen company execs.

According to Gooch, one of the study’s major findings was most food waste is generated by consumers in the form of leftovers and past-due-date meat, dairy or fresh produce.

“It generally occurs in small amounts,” said Gooch.  “We don’t see the aggregate effect.”

Grocers, he added, have a vested interest in helping consumers cut down on the amount of purchased food that ends up in Canadian landfill sites.

“They can earn shopper loyalty if they show they are doing something for the environment,” he said.  “And if you reduce food waste in a business you also reduce wasted water, energy, labour, infrastructure, transportation – you name it.”

He added that novel incentive initiatives by grocers in his native England, such as a ‘Buy One Get One Later’ campaign instead of the regular 2-for-1 format, are part of a more holistic incentive approach that emphasizes performance and customer service over sales.

The first of the report’s six recommendations is the establishment of a food waste working group of industry stakeholders.

That group would work towards the cataloguing of current Canadian and international initiatives to deal with food waste.

Other recommendations include the development of strategies and pilot projects to tackle food waste, and the sharing of information about the extent and nature of waste in the food value change.

For Gooch, the proposed actions would help to improve the current approach to fighting food waste in Canada.

“There is a lot of talk and some industry initiatives with no formal connectivity,” said Gooch.  “We have lots of opportunities and lots to learn.”