Food manufacturers, retailers benchmark food waste

June 26, 2013

The food industry has issued its first-ever analysis of food waste data collected directly from food manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers. The study was conducted by consulting firm BSR and commissioned by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a cross-sector industry initiative led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), and the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

The report found that food waste generated through manufacturing tends to be unused ingredients, unfinished product, or trimmings, peels, and other unavoidable food waste. The large volume of food and relatively few manufacturing sites create economies of scale that allow manufacturers to recycle waste at a high rate. Conversely, food waste at the retail level tends to consist of finished products more suitable for donation. Numerous locations and diverse product offerings make food waste diversion a significant logistical challenge for many retailers.

The analysis demonstrates how the industry operating environments are recognizably different, but survey respondents cited common barriers that prevented them from diverting more food waste from landfill. Transportation constraints and liability concerns were the most commonly cited barriers for food donation, while the most frequently reported obstacle to food recycling was an insufficient number of recycling options.

“The primary objective of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance is to reduce the volume of food waste sent to landfill by addressing the root causes of waste, and securing pathways to donate safe food or recycle it for use elsewhere. This new data not only helps us better understand how industry currently is managing food waste, it gives us a benchmark against which we can measure our progress,” said Susan Kujava, Industry Relations Director at General Mills Inc. and Co-chair of the FWRA.

The analysis found that food manufacturers diverted 94.6% of food waste generated from landfills to higher uses, such as donation and recycling. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of food waste diverted by manufacturers went to animal feed. The manufacturing sector donated 700 million pounds of safe food that would have otherwise been disposed.

On the retail side, the analysis found that food donation and composting were retailers’ and wholesalers’ primary diversion methods (representing 32% and 43% of diverted food, respectively). Retailers/wholesalers donated 670 million pounds of safe food that would have otherwise been disposed. The retail/wholesale sector diverted the majority (55.6%) of food waste generated from landfills to higher uses.

BSR’s analysis is based on self-reported survey data collected from food manufacturers and grocery retailers/wholesalers extrapolated to the entire U.S. food manufacturing sector and grocery retail/wholesale sector. In total, 13 manufacturers responded to the survey (representing approximately 17% of U.S. manufacturing sales) and 13 retailers/wholesalers responded (representing approximately 30% of U.S. grocery retail/wholesale industry sales). Data reported was for the year 2011.

Study (pdf)