The recession brought fresh frugality to many consumers, whose concern about waste had them heading to the grocery more often to make smaller purchases and questioning the sense of bulk buying, according to a study by The Hartman Group. “Lack of waste is a big part of what value means, so we see this a lot in club channels. Consumers are asking, ‘But will I really use it?’ ” President Laurie Demeritt told MediaPost’s Marketing Daily.
Shopping wisely, with an eye on avoiding waste, is one of many words of advice in another report, by the National Resources Defense Council. The report says the U.S. wastes about 40% of its food supply, and it details findings systemwide, from field to store and restaurant to consumer to landfill.
Food production soaks up 80% of the water and 10% of the power used in the U.S. and takes up about half of the land, yet we turn around and toss out about $165 billion worth of uneaten food every year, the report says. Cutting waste by 15% could feed more than 25 million people each year.
Foodservice operations, including restaurants, account for 19% of food waste at the retail level, the report says, with 4% to 10% tossed before a customer is served and the rest dumped when the guest either leaves leftovers on the plate or takes them home, only to dispose of them later.
The report suggests changes that everyone in the food system, including farmers, chefs and consumers, can make to stem the tide of food waste.
At the consumer level, the issue is often that we buy more food than we can use before it goes bad. The report suggests shopping more mindfully, freezing more purchases and leftovers to give them a longer life and understanding that “sell by” and “best by” dates are more an indicator of peak flavor than food safety.
For restaurants, the biggest waste stems from several trends endemic to many chains, including overlarge portions, inflexibility on side-dish choices, expansive menus that require kitchens to have myriad ingredients on hand and rigid rules that preclude managers from adjusting menus to take advantage of local supply and demand.
The report advises eateries to:
- Create more limited offerings and specials to push ingredients that need to move; redesign or eliminate buffets; and offer smaller portions with refill options and choices of side dishes to cut down on uneaten food.
- Engage staff in daily kitchen-waste audits, which have proved to get workers more involved and invested in cutting waste. Culinary schools and restaurant associations can add more training in efficient ordering and menu planning.
- Encourage guests to take leftovers home and learn about benefits of donating leftovers.
What’s your restaurant doing to cut waste? How’s it working? Tell us in the comments.