Danish Supermarket Sells “Rescued” Food to Reduce Food Waste

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February 24, 2016, TakePart

Good looks are often overrated, especially when it comes to food. That’s the premise behind the operations of a new Copenhagen grocer that sells produce and other foods discarded by supermarkets.

Called “the most interesting supermarket in the world” by the Washington Post’s WonkBlog, WeFood obtains all of its products—dairy, produce, meat, and even dry goods—from supermarkets that would otherwise landfill the food. The market, opened by NGO DanChurchAid and partially financed by a crowdfunding campaign, has attracted notice for its pointed departure from standard food-industry operations.

WeFood partners with two large Danish grocers as well as smaller manufacturers and stores to obtain foods past their expiration date or pulled from shelves because of aesthetic imperfections. It sells these products at about between 50 and 70 percent of their “undamaged” price.

A representative of DanChurchAid stated that the project was aimed at shoppers concerned about Denmark’s problematic food waste stream—about 770,000 tons per year. Indeed, food waste is a problem for most developed and developing countries. It’s a massive economic problem as well as an environmental one; because of the manner in which organic matter decomposes, landfilled food waste creates a high concentration of methane. One UN study estimated that about 1.4 billion tons of food is wasted worldwide each year.

The United States is a particularly egregious offender, wasting about 35 million tons of food in 2012 (the year for which data is most recently available from the EPA). The NRDC suggests that the United States loses approximately $165 billion on lost food—from farming and transportation to sale to landfilling—each year. Food waste makes up about 20 percent of our municipal waste stream.

For economic and environmental reasons, some see merit in finding customers for meat and cheese past its sell-by date or imperfectly shaped veggies. However, getting past the “spoiled food” stigma has been tough for the first American grocer to try the concept. A similar effort to sell “rescued” food kicked off in the U.S. last year when former Trader Joe’s vice president Doug Rauch opened a store featuring resold groceries in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. However, Rauch’s store was met with mixed reviews as some experts found its location and purpose—selling food past its sell-by date to Dorchester’s low-income population—problematic.

TakePart noted that WeFood may manage to avoid the assumption that it is selling stigmatized food to the poor or to racial minorities. The grocery is located in a more upscale neighborhood, suggesting that its shoppers may be buying imperfect foods for environmental, not economic, reasons. If supporters purchase rejected food for sustainability reasons, WeFood could be on the path to destigmatizing ugly food.—Lauren Karch

  • Rod Averbuch

    Food waste is a lose-lose situation for the environment, the struggling families in today’s tough economy and for the food retailers. Fortunately, there are new ways to reduce fresh food waste.

    The new open GS1 DataBar barcode standard enables new fresh food waste reduction applications that allow automatic progressive purchasing incentives for fresh perishables approaching their expiration dates. These applications also eliminate labor-intensive manual relocation and promotional labeling of the promoted perishable lots.

    An example of such an application is the “End Grocery Waste” App. This GS1 DataBar based application encourages efficient consumer shopping behavior that makes fresh food affordable for all families, maximizes grocery retailer revenue, and effectively reduces the global carbon footprint.

  • Bob Andrlik

    I direct a nonprofit food rescue organization called Table to Table in Iowa. Our focus is keeping post-marketed food as a resource and not let it head into the waste stream. We work with grocery stores pulling still wholesome, usable product, restaurants and institutions who have excess food and have them donate that so we can transport it to agencies that serve those in need in our area. There is no fee charged for our program. Further, since these individuals and families are already tasking these agencies for services, there is one less hurdle to overcome to acquire this food.
    There are many food rescues across the US. We are not all structured the same, but the common thread is that we all are keeping nutritious food from going to waste and using it to help improve the lives of our fellow citizens.
    Rescued food can be a tremendous resource to the community if you have a mechanism in place to capture and redirect it. Reselling it at a lower cost diminishes that impact and only minimally improves access to the food by those in need.