If you read our recent Food Waste Forecast, then you know that 2024 holds great promise for food waste reduction. To make even more progress than we did in 2023, we thought we’d look at some strategies and technologies that businesses and consumers can leverage to further reduce food waste this year. Below are five solutions that have shown proven effectiveness in reducing waste and mitigating environmental impacts across multiple sectors of the food supply chain and will be imperative to reducing food waste in 2024.
Markdown Alert Applications
Sector: Retail, Foodservice | Annual Food Waste Diversion (Tons): 638k | Annual CO2e Reduction (Tons): 2.86M | Annual Net Financial Benefit: $2.62B
Retailers have an opportunity to enhance customer engagement and reduce food waste by embracing e-commerce platforms. According to a 2022 estimate by McKinsey, e-commerce penetration is expected to more than double over the next five years. This surge offers a valuable chance for retailers to integrate markdown technologies into their sales strategies. Markdown alert applications – which notify consumers in real time of markdowns on excess food – provide a seamless way for retailers to sell more product nearing the end of its shelf life that might otherwise go to waste. According to a study by the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment (PCFWC), markdown alert technologies can also help retailers reduce food waste by developing new sales channels and attracting price-conscious consumers who are feeling the pinch of recent food price increases. With their easy implementation and high financial benefit, markdown alert apps are poised to continue their success in the coming years.
Sector: Foodservice | Annual Food Waste Diversion (Tons): 2.41M | Annual CO2e Reduction (Tons): 1.95M | Annual Net Financial Benefit: $2.73B
A common problem among restaurants and other foodservice companies is a lack of quantifiable information about how and where food waste is generated. Some foodservice operations may believe they're already operating efficiently and with minimal waste, and others do not have the time or capacity to manually track their waste management processes. Technology-enabled waste tracking can reduce the burden and improve the efficiency of data collection, while also improving the accuracy and timeliness of insights generated. And the results can be pretty staggering. In 2021, Compass Group USA reported a 33% reduction in food waste across all of its U.S.-based cafes through waste tracking efforts. By providing operators with quantifiable information about where and why waste occurs, waste tracking allows them to identify hotspots and allocate resources accordingly.
Sector: Foodservice | Annual Food Waste Diversion (Tons): 2.41M | Annual CO2e Reduction (Tons): 13M | Annual Net Financial Benefit: $562M
The main driver of food waste in the foodservice sector – by far – is the practice of serving portions that exceed what an average consumer can finish in one serving. In fact, according to ReFED’s Food Waste Monitor, 70% of food waste in the foodservice industry can be attributed to plate waste. Focusing attention on right-sizing portions is a solution that’s worked well across the foodservice industry, with two PCFWC pilot projects seeing significant results last year. Making adjustments to standard ratios, investing in vessels and equipment to right-size offerings, and training staff on more precise menu specifications all led to food waste reduction across several hospitality pilot sites along the West Coast. Similarly, portion sizing led to a 60% reduction in waste at Greenbiz Group’s Circularity conference last year. Along with other consumer-facing interventions – like trayless dining and buffet signage – right-sizing portions can raise awareness and influence consumer behavior to significantly reduce waste in foodservice operations.
Resources On Portion Sizes: Portion Balance Coalition, Behavioral Interventions for Online Ordering (Nesta, Behavioral Insights Team)
Active & Intelligent Packaging
Sector: Manufacturing, Retail, Household | Annual Food Waste Diversion (Tons): 689k | Annual CO2e Reduction (Tons): 4.59M | Annual Net Financial Benefit: $729M
Ambiguity surrounding date labels often leads consumers to discard perfectly edible food. ReFED estimates that this behavior accounts for nearly 7% of the total food waste generated in the United States. One solution to address the confusion caused by date labels is active and intelligent packaging, which utilizes a number of technologies to both slow down the process of food going bad and to alert consumers about the quality of that food. “Active” packaging delays spoilage by absorbing ethylene, controlling moisture levels, and reducing microbial activity. Meanwhile, “intelligent” packaging incorporates chemical sensors that provide consumers with real-time, accurate information about a product’s freshness and safety. Integrating intelligent packaging technologies not only benefits consumers but also opens new business opportunities in digitization. Companies can efficiently track, sense, and communicate product attributes to both manufacturers and consumers, enhancing supply chain management, product quality control, and customer engagement.
Consumer Education Campaigns
Sectors: Retail, Household | Annual Food Waste Diversion (Tons): 3.14M | Annual CO2e Reduction (Tons): 18.9M | Annual Net Financial Benefit: $17B
Consumer education campaigns stand out as a highly effective solution for reducing food waste, offering significant financial benefits across various sectors. And when paired with other solutions, they become even more impactful. In the retail sector, educational messaging – particularly when combined with selling food via markdown platforms – helps shoppers see the value and quality in food beyond its price or appearance. According to a 2017 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), giving customers the option to purchase nontraditional products via e-commerce platforms while educating them about the uses and quality of the product can increase the sale of these items. Beyond individual product sales, research suggests that incorporating social norm messaging into strategies can induce long-term behavior change – framing food waste as socially unacceptable elevates the importance of reducing food waste at home and motivates people to change their habits. The “Save More Than Food” campaign resulted in a 23% decline in household food waste, exemplifying how powerful consumer education campaigns can be.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, these are five solutions that could play a big role in the fight against food waste in 2024 and beyond. From their positive environmental impacts to their focus on upstream measures to prevent waste in the first place, these solutions are just the start of a less wasteful year. For more information on these solutions and numerous others, check out ReFED’s Solutions Database in the Insights Engine.