ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50% was designed to provide food businesses, funders, policymakers, and more with a framework around which to align their food waste reduction efforts. It outlines seven key action areas with related solutions to prevent, rescue, and recycle food at risk of going to waste. Each month in our special “Following the Roadmap” series, we’ll dig deep into one of the key action areas to explore why waste occurs – and what can be done about it.
Enhance Product Distribution
Transporting food from where it’s produced to where it gets processed and/or ultimately sold and consumed is complicated under any circumstances, but the challenge increases with time-sensitive products, strict quality standards, and specific temperature requirements to maintain. Food loss and waste through distribution activities are comparatively low across the supply chain, but there are still areas for improvement – and opportunities for innovation.
Action Area Overview
"Enhancing product distribution" means maximizing freshness and selling time by harnessing the power of technology to create smart systems to efficiently move products. Solutions in this action area include technological tools – such as sensors that aid in cold chain management – but it’s important to note that these innovations must be situated within updated management procedures that prioritize remaining shelf life, and intelligent routing practices that shorten transit times. These solutions lead to improved freshness and quality, so both suppliers and buyers have much to gain.
ReFED’s analysis shows that implementing solutions to enhance product distribution can reduce food waste by 3.3 million tons annually, as well as cut GHG emissions by 7.1 million metric tons and save 528 billion gallons of water each year. And it can result in an annual net financial benefit of $8.4 billion.
Our analysis estimates that nearly $2.2 billion is needed each year to implement solutions that can enhance product distribution. With a majority of solutions geared towards increasing the efficiency of internal operations, nearly 75% of the financial investment in this action area should come from Corporate Finance and Spending, as companies will be experiencing the benefits of reducing food waste. Operational changes such as intelligent routing, temperature monitoring and decreased transit time will require corporations’ internal capital to implement these solutions and change the behaviors of employees through training and incentives.
Venture Capital and Corporate R&D can drive greater effectiveness and decrease costs for distribution technologies and solutions, which encourages their adoption in both large and small organizations. Additionally, as consolidation occurs in technology-enabled solution providers and winners emerge, Private Equity can help scale these solutions with growth capital. Impact First Investors, Government, and Non-Government Organizations have a significant role to play in filling in the gaps needed for food waste innovation that are not addressed by other capital types. Perceived risk is reduced by providing capital to help companies tackling food waste to run pilot programs – thereby giving these businesses the opportunity to understand the ROI before financing themselves.
Within this and other action areas are a range of solutions, including those that ReFED has modeled using key data points, promising solutions that we’re still gathering data on, and best practices that many organizations have already worked into their operations.
Routing of product based on near time data on impacts to freshness, such as cold chain maintenance so that shorter-life product is routed to closer destinations.
Decreased Transit Time
Reducing time in transit by team driving to extend the distance product can move each day from farm to distribution.
Designing processes to move product based on what will expire first, rather than when it was received.
Temperature Monitoring (Pallet Transport)
Use of measurement and alert technology and other systems for pallet- or truck-level temperature tracking to identify areas for improved cold chain compliance, third-party issue identification, and real-time detection and resolution.
Reduced Warehouse Handling
Minimizing the number of touches on a product during distribution, preparation, and on display can prevent blemishes or bruising and reduce the potential for damages.
Early Spoilage Detection (Hyperspectral Imaging)
Use of non-invasive light sensors to test food products for freshness, material integrity, contaminiation, and safety for sale and consumption.
Advanced Shipment Notifications
An electronic message that notifies the recipient at the time of shipment departure. The purpose is to prepare the customer to receive the shipment and provide information about the status, time of receipt, weight, and other characteristics of the shipment.
Development of systems for traceability and origin tracking (e.g., blockchain) to increase efficiency and accuracy of food safety recalls when needed, thus targeting the contaminated goods and minimizing the total amount of product culled during recalls.
Vibration & Drops Tracking
Use of sensors to monitor vibrational frequencies during transit and to alert drastic changes in stability in order to ensure safe handling, storage, and/ or operation.
Modified Atmosphere Packaging System
Manipulating the composition of atmospheric gases inside perishable food packaging in order to extend shelf life, maintain visual appeal, and sustain nutritional content without incorporating any chemical preservatives.
Optimized Truck Packing, Loading & Unloading (e.g., Cross-Docking)
Use of best practices that maximize space, maintain air flow and appropriate temperatures levels for food safety, and minimize dwell time and unnecessary movement.
Cold Chain SOPs
Implementation of best practices for cold chain maintenance and waste prevention, as well as the education, training, and materials needed to ensure consistent use of practices across the industry.
Regular Maintenance on Refrigerated Trucks
Updates, checks, and calibrations on truck technologies and materials to ensure accurate temperature measurement of food during transportation and temporary holding in trucks, with consideration to the impact of fluctuating or improper temperatures on food quality and safety.
Logistics maneuver in which in-bound products are immediately unloaded and reloaded for appropriate out-bound distribution, thus minimizing handling and dwell time and maximizing a single coordinated step.