Metro tackles food waste and helps the needy

A program at Metro stores in Montreal is diverting soon- to-be expired food to people who can really use it


RETAILERS OFTEN TOSS food that is still good to eat into dumpsters.

Best-case scenario, they compost it. But some grocers are trying to get food that would normally go to waste into the mouths of people in need.

Since November, Metro Inc. has participated in a pilot project that has seen 11 stores in the Montreal area (both Metro stores and discount Super Cs) giving unwanted items to food banks. Stores were chosen based on proximity to organizations that pick up the food: Welcome Hall Mission in Montreal and Action Nouvelle Vie on the South Shore.

The pilot was expected to last 12 weeks but has continued. It has resulted in the recovery of 165 kilos of food (550 servings) per store per week, thereby avoiding disposal of more than 23 tonnes of waste. “That’s a lot,” says Geneviève Grégoire, Metro’s communication advisor.

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To kickstart the program, Metro teamed up with La Tablée des Chefs (The Chef Table), a sustainable food brokerage that links food donors with community groups that redistribute surplus food to people in need. Prior to working with Metro, La Tablée had already signed on with a number of institutions where food waste is prevalent: hotels, hospitals, restaurants, casinos, the Bell Centre and the Première Moisson bakery chain.

Participating Metros and Super C’s collect baked goods, in- house prepared meals such as shepherd’s pie and stews, deli meats and cheese set to expire. Staffers affix a sticker to all products destined for the program, making sure not to block product info. Once the sticker is placed, the food can’t be sold.

Next, all food destined for the food banks is frozen. Charities come by the stores twice weekly to pick it up. Each community organization must have sufficient capabilities to store frozen food, notes Grégoire. “It’s working well and the organizations that pick up the food are well run.” The only hiccup: the stickers kept falling off the frozen food, so better stickers were found. Also, the program isn’t able to include fruit and vegetables. “They don’t freeze well and we don’t have enough storage space to keep them,” Grégoire says.

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Metro isn’t the only grocer working with third-party groups to tackle the food-waste problem. U.K. grocer Tesco has partnered with FareShare, a group that works with 1,200 British charities, from breakfast clubs to women’s shelters, to shift some 300 tonnes of food to FareShare charities from Tesco stores and warehouses. Food waste from Tesco can provide seven million meals annually, says Tesco’s Greg Sage.

Meanwhile, Metro’s pilot project has been extended well beyond its expected duration and the company is now looking at how it can be further deployed. As it now stands, the program cannot be extended to all Metros and Super C’s in the Montreal area, Grégoire says, because there aren’t enough organizations to collect and handle the food.

For the last two years, Metro has also run a plant-based, organic-waste collection program that sends unsellable produce, processing waste from cut fruit or prepared dishes and unsold baked goods to organic-waste treatment sites. The program is slated to be implemented in all corporate and franchised stores in Quebec and Ontario later this year.

As well, Metro warehouses in the Montreal and Quebec City areas distribute perishable food to community groups. Metro says its goal is to reduce its food disposal rates by 25% by 2016. In the grocery business, food losses are unavoidable. Still, not all of that food needs to go to waste.