Big Ideas for Food Waste — From Upcycling to Extending Freshness in Produce
Hartman Group Podcasts: Insights Into Big Solutions for the Big Problem of Food Waste.
Among many “big” issues consumers see as falling under the scope of sustainability (climate change, the food system, social justice, animal welfare, etc.), Hartman Group research has identified consumer concern for waste of all kinds rising in intensity over the years: While packaging waste (in particular, single-use plastic) has garnered rising angst, the pandemic intensified concerns about food waste as well since consumers, quarantined at home, saw the direct (and often sobering) equation between increased home cooking and resulting issues relating to food freshness, storage, and spoilage. Also, during the pandemic, the media reported stories on how agricultural suppliers to foodservice (for example, in pork and fresh produce) were forced to abandon their products due to pandemic-driven closures, further intensifying worries about the fragility of industrial food systems.
According to the USDA, between 30% and 40% of the food supply becomes waste in the United States — a figure that closely parallels global estimates made by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As this issue is unlikely to lessen in terms of both consumer and industry scrutiny, we’ve been exploring what companies and organizations are doing to battle food waste — one part of which includes two organizations interviewed in our 2021 podcasts. One of them, the Upcycled Food Association (UFA), has industrial-level food waste fully in its crosshairs within its diverse membership.
In this podcast interview (Upcycled Food Association: Making It Easy to Prevent Food Waste), Hartman Group Retainer Services Vice President Melissa Abbott interviewed Turner Wyatt, co-founder and CEO of the UFA, about some of the history behind the organization. As described by Turner in the podcast:
“We've grown from an initial group of nine businesses, all based in the US, to over 170 members across about 20 countries — and they do various things. Some are CPGs. Some are ingredient companies. Some are in technology or are distributors or retailers. But the thing that they have in common is that, in some way, they're dealing with upcycled food. And what is upcycled food (the question of the year)? Upcycled food is the easy way for anyone to prevent food waste with the products they buy. In other words, an upcycled product uses an otherwise wasted food ingredient to make a new, high-quality product.
So, all of these companies have identified some byproduct of manufacturing or agriculture and they're adding value to it, upcycling it into some new product or ingredient that they're selling to other businesses, or they're a retailer or are in a food business somewhere else in the supply chain that's just interested in being a part of this movement, because they recognize that preventing food waste is important. They want to be a part of the solution. They want to otherwise be involved with preventing food waste. This is the first consumer product-driven solution to food waste, which is really exciting as an environmentalist. It's super scalable, and it's really economically sustainable. And that's exactly what we need right now.”
Another recent Hartman Group podcast (AgroFresh — Guardian of Fresh Produce) is an interview with Jackson Kempker, Sales Development Manager at AgroFresh, which is a service and solution provider to the fresh produce industry. One of AgroFresh’s solutions is the SmartFresh quality system, a product and service that comes in multiple forms and works by preventing fruit or other produce from ripening by targeting ethylene production. A main benefit of extending the life of fresh fruit and produce is reduced spoilage within food retail (and enhanced visual appeal to consumers) — but we also learn that further up the supply chain, AgroFresh services have other sustainability-related benefits in terms of reduced costs in energy, transportation, storage, and refrigeration. As described by Jackson:
“For more than 20 years now, AgroFresh has provided revolutionary and proven solutions to the produce industry that have maximized produce freshness, reduced waste, and conserved resources. We actually made our name in the apple industry many years ago, with our revolutionary SmartFresh quality system. Essentially, we were able to extend the overall shelf life by an additional 50% — which, you know, is a pretty big deal in itself. But the reason this was so exciting for us at the time is that this created the ability for apple marketers in the US to operate, market, and sell year-round. So just because maybe your apples might have been harvested in October, some of the apples that you might be purchasing at the store the following August could have been from that harvest.
Today, we still maintain that apple base, but we are quickly trying to expand into new crops, and we're constantly discovering new, innovative solutions that can make a real impact on the produce industry. So, whether it's growers, packers, shippers, wholesalers, or retailers all across the supply chain, we are able to provide solutions that can maintain peak freshness, reduce food loss and waste, and maximize sustainable resources while creating tangible customer value.”
Hartman Group Insights:
Concerned about the overall topic of waste and driven by changes seen both in their own lives and in their communities, consumers are increasingly thinking about how food waste occurs throughout the product life cycle: For them, the pandemic has illuminated the interconnectedness of the food supply chain, with crippling effects visible not only among shuttered businesses but within a wider, interdependent network of consumers, farmers, food suppliers and manufacturers, and other institutions.
COVID-19 has also put a spotlight on food waste and thrift at home. The question “Will my family actually use this item?” has taken on greater meaning as consumers have been forced to adapt to both fewer, constrained sourcing routines and more intentional strategies about when and how they will use items.
Hartman Group research on sustainability-related behaviors and thinking finds that consumers are keen to better align their actions with their aspirations — particularly in areas related to impacts from their consumption of material goods and the conservation of natural resources.
Going forward, consumers seem to be more willing to change their lifestyles in the name of sustainability, and yet an important shift has occurred in their recognition of the need for collective action and the corresponding limits of the individual. Specifically, consumers want companies, organizations, and the government to tackle large-scale issues like packaging and food waste, recycling, pollution, and climate change, all of which feel too big to address solely on an individual level.
As consumers continue to raise expectations for products and companies to do better, they are primed to more greatly value product attributes, practices, and narratives that shed light on corporate initiatives relating to responsible resource use.