Using Data To Deliver Customized Food Waste Solutions

Using Data To Deliver Customized Food Waste Solutions


Using Data To Deliver Customized Food Waste Solutions

  |   October 31, 2022

The “Target-Measure-Act” framework is recommended globally to drive food waste reduction efforts, yet many businesses struggle to accurately track food waste throughout their operations. Without this data, they don’t know where to focus their waste reduction efforts, nor how they stack up against others in their industry. It’s a critical challenge that is impeding efforts to achieve 2030 food waste reduction goals. 

The Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment (PCFWC) – a public-private partnership between food businesses and jurisdictions along the West Coast of the United States and Vancouver, British Columbia – was launched to support businesses in the U.S. with food waste measurement and reporting. (ReFED serves as a nonprofit resource partner for the PCFWC, along with WWF and WRAP.) The data generated by PCFWC partners helps participating businesses address waste in their own operations and – shared more broadly in a pre-competitive format with their peers – also helps to inform systemwide sustainability efforts that can accelerate overall progress. That’s the reason why Sprouts Farmers Market signed on to the PCFWC. “We came to the realization pretty quickly of the extremely crucial role that data plays in really understanding our waste footprint when it comes to food waste,” said Natasha Tofil, Sustainability Analyst at Sprouts, on a recent ReFED webinar. “We want to make sure that we can account for – through the data – every piece of material flowing in and out of our stores.”

The PCFWC was designed to overcome the key challenges faced by businesses trying to measure their food waste rates, destinations, and impacts. Using ReFED-designed sector-specific waste tracking calculators, PCFWC food business signatories submit their data in a standardized format that simplifies anonymous aggregation and analysis. The data provide a point of comparison for their own period-over-period efforts, but also a benchmark of those efforts in comparison to others in their sector. Importantly, the PCFWC data reporting calculator was developed to feed into the reporting forms of other data commitments that signatories may already have been a party to, thereby simplifying their overall efforts.

The first data release from the PCFWC, representing over 30% of the regional grocery market, had important findings, including tracking the food waste rate by different departments – the highest rates of unsold food came from the Prepared Foods (9.30%), Breads & Bakery (7.44%), and Produce (6.39%) departments– and the destinations for unsold foods. Critically, the latter revealed that 31% of unsold food was categorized as going to an “unknown destination,” which indicates that there is a significant amount of unsold food that is underreported in one or more of the other destinations – for example, due to poor scan out procedures or incomplete or missing data from donation and waste hauling partners. The findings provide a roadmap for retailers – both within the PCFWC and those not yet signed on – of hotspots to address through new or updated waste management practices and are detailed in the report Creating a Sustainable Food Future Through Food Waste Reduction. 

ReFED is currently working with PCFWC retail signatories to collect updated data for 2020 and 2021. When that is aggregated and analyzed, it will allow for year-over-year comparisons to demonstrate progress. And with data from new signatories, it will take the covered market share to around half of the regional market, making it even more valid as a point of comparison.The initiative is also adding different sectors in addition to retail to better show impacts of the project across the supply chain. With several recent signatories – including Aramark, Compass, and Sodexo in the foodservice sector and Fresh Del Monte as a grower – joining the effort, there is a strong indication that food waste is gaining momentum as a top sustainability priority of private sector food companies. While the momentum is enthusing, there is still a need to accelerate commitments and turn that momentum into actionable and shareable results for the region.

The PCFWC is driving that action through data-informed on-the-ground intervention projects, case studies, and customized roadmaps for food businesses. In total, nine case studies will be released in the coming months, detailing a range of projects from those with low barriers to implementation to more customized efforts with longer implementation cycles. (There will be much more information on this coming soon.)

ReFED is also piloting Customized Roadmaps using signatory-reported data to confidentially provide deep, custom analytics on food waste metrics, impact metrics, and prioritized solutions unique to each business. While the ReFED Insights Engine has modeled over 40 solutions to food waste, each business has its own specific challenges and opportunities to reduce food waste. Using real data from PCFWC signatories, we are able to customize their route to reduction and the impacts from implementing solutions. The more data that comes in will result in better solution modeling and increasingly customized plans of action.

Overall, the PCFWC has achieved significant traction in the often muddy world of advancing data and measurement in the space. Along with our partners, we are excited to see growth in the amount and quality of data being shared, the standardization of reporting metrics, and the resulting enhancements that businesses are implementing to act upon the data. It’s an important step in systemwide efforts to reduce waste. 

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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