We need more than good intentions to stop food waste

Food waste reduction starts on the farm and ends in the kitchen. Along the way, there’s plenty that can be done – by all parts of the value chain – to minimize loss.

Food waste is a huge problem. In Canada, we waste around 40% of all the food we buy. That’s about $27 billion worth of food. And the surprising fact is that more than half of all food waste comes from the kitchen.

Consumers mean well when they buy produce

Here’s why. We have the best of intentions when we buy commodities, such as fruits and vegetables, which are marketed beautifully in ads and in-store. They look fantastic. You can almost taste them. When we get home, we tuck them away in the refrigerator, like food safety specialists say we should.

But then we avoid them. Most often, that’s because we really don’t know what to do with them. Many consumers haven’t learned how to cook beyond the staples. So our well-intentioned purchases go bad and become garbage. Landfills pile up with waste that was once nutritious food.

For farmers, this is disheartening. Imagine half of everything you made becoming garbage.

The role of marketing in combating food waste

We need agri-food marketing campaigns to turn this situation around and get consumers familiar with new commodities, as well as those that have been there all along, but aren’t getting the recognition or sales they deserve.

For example, last spring I was pleased to be part of an effort by the Toronto Star and University of Guelph journalist Owen Roberts, along with the Canadian Canola Growers Association and the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, to publish a 21-part series in The Star called The New Farm.

It was a great example of marketing for farmers. The idea was to introduce urban consumers to Canadian commodities and the people who grow them from coast to coast through stories and programs, like Best Food Facts, in the pages of our country’s largest daily newspaper.

The effort won two Certificates of Merit from the Canadian Agri-Marketing Association. It deserves to be repeated.

Food retailers have entered the food waste reduction arena

Walmart Canada has committed to achieving zero food waste by 2025. It already has a great head start, having reduced food waste in its Canadian operations by 27% between 2015–2017.

Now, it’s using its vast resources to help others. The Walmart Foundation recently pledged $19 million to support Canadian initiatives and research to reduce food waste along the food chain, from farm to fork. Now there’s an agri-marketing campaign with teeth.

Walmart’s support includes more than $1 million to the University of Guelph to convene best practices from key municipalities that have initiatives focused on reducing household food waste. It’s also funding the development of a low-cost nutritional supplement from fruit by-products that normally would go to landfill.

As well, Walmart is supporting the Guelph-based Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, along with the Provision Coalition, to work with 50 manufacturers across Canada to conduct food loss and waste assessments and identify solutions.

These are great examples of what’s needed all along the value chain to sell food and use it, rather than waste it. From the field to the consumer, there’s a role for everyone.

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