Saving one-fourth of the food currently wasted is enough to feed all the hungry people in the world. From our farms to grocery stores to dinner tables, much of the food we grow is never eaten. Reducing food waste is an opportunity to innovate along the value chain.
Just after harvest, food is mainly lost because of lack of proper storage and distribution practices. This is true in both low-, middle- and high-income countries, but most severe in low-income countries. A recent survey by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 30-40 percent of total food production in developing economies is lost before it reaches the market. Recent technical advances in mobile refrigeration – e.g. solar power – raise the opportunity to create a ‘clean cold revolution’ that harnesses renewable energy to fix the broken cold chains by adding refrigeration capacity where it is missing. Not only offering to save food, it can also reduce the footprint of the current refrigeration systems by upgrading under-performing units in cold chains that have insufficient capacity or are not energy efficient.
By ‘greening the cold chain’, we reduce food loss, feed more people and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of the food industry. Furthermore, reducing waste will also free up other resources since it is not just the food itself that is lost; it is also the water, human effort and resources that go into production. Helping families in off-grid communities to ‘keep it cool’ calls for especially innovative low tech – high impact solutions.
Reducing food waste via improved cold chains benefits everyone. Food producers benefit from greater efficiency in being able to sell closer to 100 percent of the food they produce. Food retailers benefit from a more stable supply of food and they can ensure the food they receive can be stored and sold fresh while enjoying savings from new energy-efficient refrigeration.
After making it to supermarkets and into our homes, food spoils and is eventually wasted. A variety of tools and systems can stop this waste. This includes innovations in packaging and incentivizing consumers and retailers to sell and purchase more responsibly with respect to reducing food waste.
In high and very-high HDI countries, most food is wasted by consumers or from distribution and market practices that discard much food. This happens because the food might not look or feel as consumers prefer it to, or because of stringent regulation. This results in large amounts of waste. In Europe and North America, food waste per person is more than 10 times greater than in South America and South East Asia.
Changing consumer behavior can be arduous. While innovations like smart labeling – that allows products to stay on the shelf as long as they are fresh – can help. There is plenty of room for innovations that can change irresponsible consumer behavior and incentivize retailers to adopt less wasteful practices.
Reducing food loss in early stages of food production when combined with measures to reduce food waste at the retail and consumer level, can have a significant impact on addressing food scarcity and reducing the CO2 footprint of the food industry.
The perception of waste as a resource is maturing in many populations around the globe. It is both an ethical issue that we live in a world where food is wasted while an alarming number of people go to bed hungry every day, as well as a question of misuse of resources.
Wasting less food is good for our societies in the eyes of most respondents. To reduce food waste is a popular market opportunity when assessed for the potential impact on society and capacity to pursue across all regions. Especially respondents from the MENA region are very positive about this market opportunity. Of the 15 market opportunities surveyed in 2015, this was their preferred one. It is also one of the most favored opportunities in North America and Europe. In South America, the opportunity is also perceived to have high benefits for society, but there is low faith in the political will power to pursue it.
The finance sector seems to be the only business sector which is more likely to seek business opportunities in reducing food waste. It is not perceived to be a top opportunity in the eyes of the governmental sector, as the sector rates it low in terms of both benefits for society and capacity to pursue. Respondents below the age of 30 perceive this opportunity very positively. The higher the age of the respondents, the lower perceived positive impact on society of the reduction of food waste.
This market was surveyed globally in 2015 by more than 5500 leaders from both the public and private sectors. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the research company YouGov. The survey results were originally published in the Global Opportunity Report 2016.