— By Tyler Simmons —
Restaurants need a new menu item: food waste strategy.
Waste is a concept. We decide on a marker of when something usable becomes unusable, whether that is within a certain timeframe or due to a certain visual indicator — like a bruise on an apple or a snack past its ‘best before’ label. One minute food is edible, delicious, desirable — the next it’s unsellable, tainted, trash. Waste is an unfortunate output of system inefficiency, and the economical and environmental impact of when the conceptual line is crossed and food becomes “waste” is massive.
In the U.S., we throw away over 40% of all of the food that is produced, which is equivalent to over 108 billion pounds and over $408 billion worth of food wasted per year, according to Feeding America. Food waste is also costly for the planet. When food goes into a landfill and decomposes, it releases methane, a far more dangerous gas than CO2 for our environment, which then contributes to over 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest carbon emitter behind the U.S. and China.
Food waste is a lose-lose-lose: producers and operators lose the products they grow, create and procure, revenue is lost, and the planet loses as more and more emissions are released into our increasingly fragile ecosystem.
So what do we do about it? We need to take multiple, varied efforts to move these conceptual markers and change the point at which food is perceived as unsellable.
The good news? Restaurants own a unique place in our culture. You embody the point at which ingredients become meals and meals feed people. This is a powerful place to be. You are directly influencing brain and behavior: a hungry customer is now full, a picky eater tries something new, a coffee and muffin habit is created. You are shaping how people go about their lives and thus, there is a massive opportunity to leverage that influence for your own benefit — by maximizing the usefulness of the ingredients you purchase and the items you create, which in turn will reduce your food waste footprint.
There are four critical ways to wield your power as a restaurant to make positive change:
Do you need a full case of baked goods, likely destined for the trash, at the end of each day? Outside of the aesthetic standard that people expect when they visit your restaurant, there are ways to politely and respectfully show that there’s less food later in the day than there was at the beginning. Relying on an “86” culture versus always having the full menu available can be effective in communicating to your staff and your customers that your products are valuable, desired and limited. There are also companies out there who can help you make ordering ingredients smarter, such as Leanpath, and others like Winnow, who can help you measure food waste and learn about key areas of waste that can be addressed.
The Upcycled Food Association (UFA) certifies and works with food producers and manufacturers who are upcycling their wasted goods (i.e. turning yogurt whey into tonic, beer malt into crackers, and more). The UFA seal is a marker to consumers that this is a brand that cares, and it’s an extremely shrewd marketing campaign. These companies are taking low-cost, end-of-life goods and giving them new retail life.
You can do the same! Use your menu to your advantage. Introduce a new item called donut bread pudding that puts stale donuts to use. Food that has no value today is now a new menu item tomorrow. Taking a culinarily creative approach to repurposing food past its retail life is an amazing way to cut down on what goes in the trash, can create a new way to engage with customers, and gives you the potential to be a trendsetter. Your waste goes down, your revenue goes up, and your customers are excited to see something new from your brand,
There are many ways to redistribute perfectly edible food that is past its retail life. One way is to donate. Fighting food insecurity is critical to reducing the amount of hungry people in this country. Donating to your local food bank or working with a third-party redistribution service can help feed those in need.
There are also ways to maximize the revenue potential of your food by leveraging in-house discounts and/or using a company that manages surplus food to sell your surplus through a B2C marketplace. Nielsen IQ has released a survey stating that food waste is the most important environmental action a restaurant can take. Why? Consumers want to be part of the solution, and using a food waste diversion solution creates a great engagement channel for you to get customers excited about and can reduce the waste footprint in your units.
While restaurants don’t control the full supply chain from field to fridge, they can certainly educate customers and influence their behaviors. Currently, waste is a back-of-house issue. You bring black trash bags out the back of your restaurant so no one can see, and do your cleanup after the doors are locked up for the night. We need to bring this issue to the front of the house.
You can educate your customers about the issue of food waste, feature repurposed and upcycled products on your menus and give customers the opportunity to make an even greater difference alongside you, by using third parties to purchase your end of retail life food. Selling that day-old bagel basket isn’t just a win for you and your customers, it’s a way to help solve a major problem and save the planet.
As an industry, we can use that influence to make people more aware and active, by inspiring them to take that education home. Inspire them to talk to their friends about that wow moment they had with the brand that changed the way they saw the world. Inspire them to be smarter about their food purchasing. Inspire them to repurpose their food or redistribute to a friend or someone in need. It’s a cycle for good, and restaurants can use their influence to be the catalyst.
By fighting the stasis of food waste, restaurants can change the system and together we can bring that grotesque “40% of all food is wasted” number down. We can’t all do everything, but if everyone does something, it’s a start. Together, let’s start to move the line and make sure food stays food, gets eaten and does not become waste.
— Tyler Simmons is the U.S. head of key accounts and enterprise sales at Too Good To Go, the tech-for-good app powering the world’s #1 marketplace for surplus food. In this role, Simmons and his team help food business chains across the U.S. reduce their waste footprints by providing them with a channel to sell their surplus food to Too Good To Go users who will come to the store to pick up a bag of food for a third of the retail cost. The app enables its partners to make money and engage with customers in a novel way while contributing to a greener planet by fighting food waste, and subsequently, climate change. Too Good To Go was founded in Copenhagen in 2016.