How Can Supermarkets Reduce Food Waste?

Food waste is an epidemic, causing more problems than plastic pollution. Here is how supermarkets can limit their contribution to the problem!

What is food waste and why is it an issue?

Food waste is exactly what you think it is, it is the food that does not get used for whatever reason and is subsequently thrown away. Unfortunately, food waste happens far too often and for a plethora of different reasons, despite the fact that much of this waste could be avoided.

Grocery stores and supermarkets are some of the main contributors of food waste, largely due to the strict performance rules that grocers have to abide by. Due to this, food can be thrown out for an array of reasons, from simply being deemed imperfect produce or ugly produce, to having a short shelf life, subsequently forcing things to be thrown out if they are even the slightest bit past their expiration date.

America has a food waste problem that is unlike anything seen in other developed countries. In the United States, between 30 to 40 percent of the food produced is thrown away (source). But what is the impact of all this food waste, and why is it a problem?

Here are some of the main issues caused by food waste:

Environmental impact

The excess of food that is wasted across the world has to end up somewhere, but where exactly does all that wasted food go? The majority of food waste ends up in huge landfills. These landfills are disastrous for the environment as everything within it is forced to decompose without access to oxygen. In turn, this process produces methane which can prove to be dangerous.

Negative environmental impacts can manifest in both pre and post waste environments. In order for these fruits and vegetables and other produce to be grown and produced, big corporations who are higher up the supply chain destroy land, partake in deforestation and ruin habitats in order for your food to be grown.

Although the destruction of land is already morally questionable, for it not to have benefited anyone is a devastating thought.

Economic impact

Wasting food also has significant economic impacts that negatively affect our economies worldwide. In Canada, total food loss is valued at $31 billion CAD (source), highlighting a huge sum of money that is not being put towards anything and is simply going to waste.

When you break it down, countries are losing money in far more areas than just the food itself. When food is wasted, natural resources, labor and material costs are also wasted. Moreover, wasting food means that there is less viable food in circulation, meaning the cost of food goes up.

Overall, food waste has a wide range of economic impacts that permeate throughout the entire process of food production. From wasted labor costs to increased food prices, food waste benefits no one.

Food insecurity

One of the biggest issues with food waste is the moral implications of wasting this much food. Every day there are people across the world who do not have enough income to support themselves, meaning that they are unable to afford food to feed themselves and their families. The fact that there are people struggling to eat whilst hundreds of thousands of people and retailers are throwing away food on a daily basis is an injustice.

What do supermarkets do with food waste?

Although food waste occurs across a variety of different situations and food can be wasted throughout the entirety of its supply chain and the food production process, supermarkets are still one of the main contributors to food waste. So, what exactly happens to all this wasted food, and what do supermarkets do with the food that they are unable to sell?

  • Simply throw it away. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, supermarkets fail to take the initiative to save the food they can and simply throw it all away. Many supermarkets are not willing to pay the extra cost to save or redirect their surplus food so the easiest option is to throw it in the bin and send it to landfills.
  • Food Banks. Some food retailers do have the initiative and moral decency to avoid throwing away perfectly good food where possible. To avoid food waste, supermarkets sometimes donate their unsold food to food banks. Although this is a great gesture, it is limited in the amount of good it can do, as food banks are also prohibited from selling food past its expiration date, meaning this food still gets wasted.
  • Commercial composting. This is a great way for supermarkets to dispose of the food that they cannot give away. Commercial composting is the process of large scale composting in which a large amount of food and landscaping waste is decomposed. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to landfills.
  • Ugly vegetables. Genetically engineered foods have meant that we have come to expect our food to be perfectly symmetrical and everything to look the same. Unfortunately, that just isn’t always possible. Offering a discount on these perfectly good fruit and vegetables can curb some of this wastage as it gives people an incentive to buy it over the perfect produce.

How much food is wasted in Canada?

Canada is not immune to the food waste problem that is seen across the globe. Unfortunately, households, retailers, food services and more all contribute to food waste across the country. Here some of the most shocking statistics about food waste in Canada:

  • 58% of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted (source)
  • That 58% equates to 35.5 million tonnes of lost or wasted food (source)
  • $21 billion dollars of food is lost or wasted during the manufacturing process (source)
  • $10 billion of food is lost or wasted at a consumer level (source)
  • The annual cost of avoidable waste per household is $1,766 (source)
  • Canada’s avoidable food waste equates to 9.8 million tonnes of CO2 (source)

Visit the environmental protection agency for more information about food waste and the best ways to limit your contribution.

What are 3 ways grocers can reduce food waste?

1. Regular Gemba Walks

Reducing food waste can be done most effectively by identifying the problem as early as possible. Participating in regular gemba walks will provide you with ample opportunity to make these identifications.

Gemba walks are a practice developed by Taiichi Ohno. It’s a process that aims to continuously observe the work being done. Individuals who are higher up the corporate food chain, in the case of supermarkets this would be managers, take time to observe the shop floor in order to highlight any wasteful activity and find areas to improve.

These walks allow you to collect as much data as possible about store waste and continuously monitor the situation. It also allows those in charge to draw up a plan for waste reduction.

There are a wide range of benefits to implementing gemba walks into your business, such as:

  • As leaders and managers are constantly on the shop floor, it allows them to create stable and healthy working relationships with employees.
  • An additional benefit to healthy working relationships is the opening that this creates to promote dialogue between different levels of the chain of command, hence allowing those in charge to be instantaneously aware of any issues.
  • Presence on the shop floor allows those making the decisions to see for themselves how they can help in the most efficient way possible.

If you don’t know where to get started with gemba walks, there are plenty of softwares that can help you schedule everything and make the process as smooth as possible. Take a look at the Gemba Walk app here.

How often should you perform gemba walks?

2. Offer Discounts

A great way to ensure you do not waste more food than you need is to offer discounts on food that is on its way out. Due to the rules surrounding food expiration dates, grocery retailers are limited to what they can do with food. The best solution to this is to get rid of the food before it has passed its sell by date.

Offering discounts before these foods go off provides an incentive for individuals to buy this food and subsequently helps supermarkets reduce waste grocery.

3. Strong relationships with suppliers

Although it may appear that supermarkets and retailers are mainly responsible for food waste, the truth of the matter is that this is a problem throughout the chain, from farmers, to suppliers, to consumers. Therefore, strong, open and flexible relationships with supermarket suppliers may help to minimize the amount of grocery store food waste.

Maintaining an open dialogue with suppliers will allow grocers and supermarket managers to quickly act on the trends, they observe during their gemba walks. If they observe that one particular product is selling out quickly when other products are staying on the shelves for too long, they can communicate with their suppliers to ensure they never have too much of one thing.


Overall, it is evident that food wastage is a huge problem, not only in Canada, but across the globe. Food waste is quickly becoming the most problematic form of pollution, overtaking plastic pollution – the previous front runner.

Although food waste occurs at every level of the production chain, supermarkets are one of the main contributors to wasted food. Many supermarkets have already got systems in place to help them limit the amount of food they waste. From donating what they don’t sell to food banks to offering discounts as an incentive to buy undesirable food.

Moreover, there are digital solutions that can help ensure supermarkets are not wasting more than they need to. Whichever method is chosen, the overriding importance is that food waste is limited as much as possible in order to minimize pollution and negative environmental impacts.