What Grocery Stores Can Do To Eliminate The Food Waste Problem

From making “best by” labels easier to interpret to rebranding the concept of leftovers, there are nudges that could stop us from tossing away our food.

This article originally appeared on FastCo.Exist on Wednesday, December 10, 2014.

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The average U.S. family of four tosses $1,500 worth of food each year in the trash. Even the most conscientious consumer can’t avoid the problem of food waste, though retailers and cities that require mandatory composting are making strides in ensuring that waste at least avoids the landfill.

In a new report, the brand innovation firm BBMG outlines ways that we can continue to cut down on waste—and what we can do with the food waste that already exists.

BBMG believes that “Aspirationals”—gen Xers and millennials who love to shop but still hold strong environmental and social values—are the key to reducing food waste. They desperately want to be more more responsible consumers, but are hampered by issues like overbuying, poor food storage, misleading “best by” dates, and a lack of time for shopping.

There is, BBMG believes, a big opportunity here for brands to “change the food waste narrative” from one that admonishes us to stop wasting food because food is expensive and people are starving to one that is all about creativity, supporting local shops, and savoring food.

From the report:

We predict the more productive path to cutting food waste will hinge on creating shared value by making it easier for consumers to make smarter choices. One of the insights from our consumer home audits here is that food waste starts upstream from the garbage bin and involves many stages, many of which are poorly supported and/or incentivized by key players along the way.

So what can be done? BBMG offers a range of suggestions for brands, including making it easier to donate or share food, gamifying shopping lists, making “best by” labeling easier to understand, rewarding consumers for their frequency of visits instead of amount offood purchases, recommending recipes based on purchased food, teaching customers to store food properly, and rebranding the concept of “leftovers.”

Some steps are already being taken, though not necessarily by grocery stores. A startup called BagIQ can, for example, aggregate all available data about a person’s food purchases to come up with healthy recipes based on recently bought items.

But there are plenty of untapped ideas just waiting for companies to take them on. Among BBMG’s ideas: putting “Eat Me First” labels on items likely to spoil quickly, having grocery stores send recipe ideas to consumers via email after they leave the store, creating better meal-planning apps, and re-ordering the traditional purchase receipt so that quick-to-spoil items on the top. Safeway, are you listening?

[Top photo: Flickr user Dean Hochman]