Food waste is not a large topic of discussion in the media and as a result, our society is not frequently exposed to the effects of it. If you are in a family that can afford to always put food on the table, you probably don’t put much thought into whether the expiration dates on your food are accurate or if it is worth the risk to drink day-old milk. For some people, however, meals are irregular, as they can’t afford the newest items from the grocery store. So, if we have so many people that can’t afford meals and are often malnourished, why do we waste so much food? There is food waste at every level of the system, from agriculture to the consumer. The waste is contributed to many factors ranging from appearance to misinformation. At the retail level, 4.1 million tons of food is wasted annually in the United States. Retail stores contribute to a significant amount of food waste mostly through inefficiencies in their method of operation. To reduce food waste, retail stores need to keep shelved items as fresh as they can, increase the shelf life of the products, and more thoroughly train their employees on stock tracking tools used by the business in order to prevent misuse, and even ignorance, of the stock tools.Order now
Within grocery stores there are many policies in place that are meant to increase the amount of food sold and retain customers. Store managers often place the most appealing food on the shelves and send any broken, expired, or visually unappealing food to shrink, which is short for shrinkage and refers to product/revenue loss. Shrink is literally product that is thrown away, in some cases without regard to how edible the product is. For the U.S., there is not enough data that measures food loss specifically, so to examine food waste at U.S. retail stores, food shrink data is the closest and most accurate indicator of food waste.
When it comes to stocking policies, retail stores will have a safety-stock, something stored in the back or on the shelf which is meant to prevent an item from going out-of-stock. This is practiced for increasing revenue because if a store empties a shelf they lose any remaining possible revenue, but if they keep a safety stock that can roll over into the next day, they may continue to profit. However, the safety-stock method can often lead to more items being placed in shrink due to managerial problems and employees inaccurately counting stock, creating a buffer that prevents the freshest items from being shelved. In “A Systematic Approach to Preventing Chilled-Food Waste at the Retail Outlet”, Tromp et al. analyzes many aspects of food waste in the context of iceberg lettuce. Their data and conclusions provide that when logistical interventions, those that involve changing the size of the safety-stock and frequency of stock replenishment, are used to limit food waste, the stock will have a greater out-of-stock component. This means that when stores attempt to reduce food waste by stocking a smaller variety of sell-by dates for an item, they will have a higher percentage of out-of-stock items. So, for stores to prevent food waste through more efficient stocking practices, consumers will experience more empty shelves which could lead to a loss in revenue from grocery stores.
While more frequent stock replenishment can limit food waste, another option is to increase the time that an item can be shelved for. A promising solution that has been implemented in some stores is to lower the normal storage temperature for cold food. Eriksson et al. examined the effects of reducing food storage temperatures at six Swedish supermarkets. The study incorporated data from numerous other studies and was accompanied by a movement in Sweden to reduce the storage temperatures of cold food items. In their research, Eriksson et al. examined the effects of storage temperature reduction on shelf life, food waste, and cost in terms CO2 production and monetary value. The study concluded that lowering the cold storage temperature for all food at these supermarkets results in decreased food waste. For example, changing the storage temperature from 8 degrees Celsius (46.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) can yield a 39% to 95% increase in shelf life. This is incredibly promising solution that is not complicated to implement, as it only requires turning down the temperature on refrigeration units. The only problem is that the decrease from 8 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius impacts carbon and monetary costs, specifically for dairy. This is the case, however, because dairy does not experience as much waste as other food categories. Meat, on the other hand, has the highest potential for food loss prevention with this method due to its high value per mass. So, while decreasing cold food storage temperatures can have an effect on monetary and CO2 costs, a proper implementation of lower temperatures can prevent food waste with limited extra costs to the store.
There are many information technology tools available to grocery stores for stock control and management. The Motorola MC9090 RFID and RF wireless gun reader is a common sight in any store where one may observe an employee with a cart of items, scanning and entering data into the device. The tool is very useful as it has integrated software that allows for the management to observe all stock data and make decisions on how frequently to order replenishment stock. Tromp et al. examines, in a metanalysis of available data for food waste, the solutions to food waste at the retail market. In this analysis they found that with regards managerial and logistical solutions (those involving policy practices), adjusting the frequency of stock counting, thus increasing the number of stock replenishment orders, results in a decrease in food waste, but an increase in out-of-stock. The implementation of more frequent and thorough stock evaluations can lower food waste in retail markets. Kenneth Kipkulei’s study of a supermarket chain in Tennessee supports this. In “Effects of Information Technology on Reducing Perishable Waste in Supermarkets” , Kipkulei interviews employees and managers at a supermarket chain to collect information on how IT effects employees in perishable food departments. The results from Kipkulei’s study show that while supermarkets may have tools available for stock tracking and food waste management, they aren’t used effectively. In the interviews Kipulei conducted, he found that many employees cited lack of training as a problem that effects their use of the tools. The policies of this particular supermarket chain did not support mandatory training, which resulted in employees resenting the use of such tools. So, while more frequent stock monitoring with the use of tools like the Motorola MC9090 RFID and RF wireless gun reader are available and used, retail store employees and managers often lack the proper training and implementation of these tools, which contributes to food waste.
Food waste is a world-wide problem and there are numerous factors that contribute to it. The retail sector contributes to roughly ten percent of food waste, with 50% of retail shrink coming from 30% of the items they stock. Retail stores must implement better policies and practices for preventing the contribution to shrink, which in turn, contributes to food waste. This can be done by more frequently restocking, storing items at a cooler temperature to retain quality and freshness, and more effectively training employees in stocking practices so as to prevent errors from personnel that contribute to shrink and over ordering on restock items.