Grocery Stores Report Significant Progress In Reducing Food Waste, New Study Finds

Grocery Stores Report Significant Progress In Reducing Food Waste, New Study Finds


Grocery Stores Report Significant Progress In Reducing Food Waste, New Study Finds

  |   April 4, 2024

The Four-Year Analysis From The Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment Represents The “Best-In-Class” Dataset For Tracking Retail Food Waste

[April 4, 2024] – A new study from the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment shows that grocery retailers made the most significant progress ever reported in the United States on reducing food waste in the retail sector. The analysis shows that over the four-year period from 2019 to 2022 (the latest year for which data is available), grocery retailers decreased the number of tons of unsold food in their regional operations by 25%—nearly 190,000 tons of food valued at $311 million—which represents a decrease in the amount of food at risk of going to waste. Most unsold food typically ends up going to waste destinations like landfill, where it decomposes and generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Yet in addition to the decrease in the amount of unsold food, the study also identified positive trends for where that unsold food ended up, including a 20% increase in the rate of unsold food being donated and a 28% increase in the rate of unsold food getting composted. Significantly, the analysis found that the four-year decline in unsold food led to an estimated 30% decrease in the total carbon footprint of unsold food in the region—the equivalent to taking nearly 270,000 passenger vehicles off the road annually.

In the United States, 38% of food goes unsold or uneaten throughout the food system, with the majority of this becoming food waste. Across the country, the grocery retail sector generates nearly six million tons of unsold food, which includes all food that went unsold in each grocery store food department, including both edible food and inedible scraps (pits, peels, etc.). The data in this study serves as the most recent analysis of retail food waste, as well as the longest year-over-year aggregated dataset in the country, making it “best in class” for benchmarking and tracking progress for food waste reduction initiatives in the U.S. grocery retail sector. (Access the full analysis here.)

“This is hands down the largest progress in reducing food waste we've ever seen reported. It demonstrates that the national goal to cut food waste in half by 2030 may, in fact, be possible—but we would need dramatically more action across all food system sectors for that to happen,” said Dana Gunders, Executive Director at ReFED. “It’s also particularly exciting to see the holistic nature of this progress. We’re not only seeing prevention numbers that far exceeded our expectations, but we’re also seeing increases in donations and composting. I really applaud our retail partners for the enormous effort they’ve put in—individually and as part of the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment—to achieve this win for people and the planet.”

Using anonymized data provided by reporting retail signatories of the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment—a public-private partnership between food businesses and jurisdictions along the Pacific Coast of the U.S.—the study determined Unsold Food Rates, Tons of Unsold Food, and the subsequent impacts, including lost sales and meal equivalents, as well as footprints for carbon and water usage. The study’s reported decline in unsold food occurred alongside many operational changes within the retail sector during the study period due to the Covid pandemic, global supply chain disruptions, and significant inflation that raised food prices. In addition, many of the retailers in the study implemented specific strategies to reduce their waste—including sharing best practices with their peers in working groups hosted by the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment and testing food waste solutions in their operations. (See all pilot projects and case studies here.)

“Reducing food waste throughout our supply chain has been a long-standing priority for Albertsons Companies, which is why we’re proud to partner with the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment on this important issue to our industry and society,” said Suzanne Long, Chief Sustainability and Transformation Officer for Albertsons Cos. “As part of our Recipe for Change framework, we’re working to eliminate food waste going to landfill in our operations. In addition to donating unsold food, we’ve implemented several tactics to reach this goal such as working with Afresh to implement their artificial intelligence-based technology to help us order the right produce in the right quantities; partnering with Uber to address local donation pickup challenges through sponsored delivery at select stores; and for food that can’t sold or donated, diverting that food to animal feed, anaerobic digestion or composting. By working together with our suppliers and our industry, we can make significant strides to reduce food waste in our country.”

According to the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment study, the food departments with the most unsold food were Prepared Foods (8.33% of total) and Breads & Bakery (8.06%). The high retail value of food from these departments represents an important opportunity for retailers to save money through food waste reduction; indeed, Prepared Foods accounted for 22.4% and Breads & Bakery for 15.8% of the total retail value of unsold food. The study’s analysis of unsold food destinations identified a 20% increase in the amount of unsold food being donated, which suggests an encouraging trend—that even as the overall amount of unsold food decreases, donations have remained an important priority for retailers. Also encouraging is the decrease in the amount of food reported as going to an “unknown” destination rate, which indicates that retailers are becoming more accurate in tracking and reporting waste within their operations.

At the heart of the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment’s mission is the conviction that robust data collection is indispensable for any successful food waste reduction strategy. Understanding the dynamics of food waste—its origins, causes, and trends—allows for more effective, targeted, and efficient interventions. Using the “Target-Measure-Act” framework for global food waste reduction initiatives, the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment supports participating retailers in tracking and reporting their waste, then uses the aggregated and anonymized data to identify where attention is needed the most.

“Since its inception, the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment has operated under the belief that pre-competitive collaboration among food businesses is essential for overcoming barriers to reducing food waste and accelerating solutions adoption,” said Jackie Suggitt, ReFED’s Director of Capital, Innovation, & Engagement. “The data shared in this report represents a collaborative effort among businesses to identify food waste hotspots to address, as well as a celebration of progress they are making. It’s a benefit not only for signatories of the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment, but for retailers across the country who can learn from this publicly released information.”

Nonprofits ReFED, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and WRAP serve as resource partners for the effort, with Cascadia Policy Solutions serving as facilitator. Through robust data tracking and analysis, working groups, and intervention projects, the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment—an initiative of the Pacific Coast Collaborative— is collaborating with food businesses operating on the West Coast to reduce food waste in the region by 50% by 2030, a success metric aligned with other global, national, and regional commitments. Building on the success of the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment, the recently launched U.S. Food Waste Pact uses a similar pre-competitive model to drive food waste progress on a national level.

“When the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment launched, these are exactly the type of results we envisioned,” said Alex Nichols-Vinueza, Program Manager, Food Loss and Waste at World Wildlife Fund. “Our retail partners have provided a roadmap for success by tackling their own food waste footprint while sharing best practices to ensure others—often their competitors—also succeed. With meaningful progress on the Pacific Coast, we now have a blueprint that can be replicated across the country.”

Current Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment retail signatories are Albertsons Companies, ALDI, The Kroger Co., New Seasons Market, PCC Community Markets, Raleys, Sprouts, and Walmart. Participating Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment jurisdictions include the U.S. states of California, Oregon, and Washington, along with British Columbia, Canada; plus the cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, as well as Alameda County in California and King County in Washington.

Read the full data results here.

Read the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment’s most recent annual report here.

Learn more about the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment here.



Jeff Costantino, Communications Director, ReFED

[email protected]

Jade Monroe, Washington State Food Center Lead:

“Washington State is so proud to be a partner in this landmark work. The Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment demonstrates innovative public-private partnerships are key to building a more just and resilient food system. We all have a responsibility to use food well, and these results show we can do just that.”

Leah Karrer, WRAP’s Executive Director for the Americas:

“This step in the right direction demonstrated by the retail sector should generate confidence to scale ambition, increase participation, and expand interventions across the value chain. In the fight against food loss and waste, this progress is encouraging. The PCFWC's 2023 Year-End Report demonstrates that applying reduction principles of ‘Target, Measure, Act’ is impactful and should be widely adopted. This is a great example of how the public-private partnership model can harness and facilitate the power of collaborative action, and we commend the commitment and activity of all involved.”

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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