Podcast January 22, 2024

Addressing Food Waste and Insecurity in the North American Supply Chain

It’s the end of the week! This time, Gabrielle Tiven takes over the show to sit down with Daniel Kelly and Isaac Jenne to talk about food waste and insecurity in North America.  Tune in for a spotlight on LIDD’s work with Food Banks Canada and the World Wildlife Fund to address food waste and insecurity, and learn about the key factors driving these global problems.

Have specific questions about food waste and insecurity? This episode’s got you covered. As experts in the field having worked on a variety of projects, Dan, Isaac and Gabrielle answer some key questions:

  • What is food waste and where does it occur?
  • What are food banks and where do they get their food?
  • Who is donating to food banks at the corporate or institutional level?
  • What are some of the complexities of saving food?
  • What, if any, are some solutions that organizations are deploying to solve these issues?

Stay tuned for more as we continue to highlight LIDD’s exciting projects in the non-profit domain.

Watch the full video below:

Hi, guys. Hey, Gabrielle.


It’s the end of the week.


Here we are.


Today we have an interesting topic.


I think it’s a debate a little bit.


So I’ll say that when I started thinking about working more with food banks


a couple of years ago and thinking about food insecurity, I started doing research,


and very quickly, I saw there was a whole world about food waste and food rescue


and food banks, and it all kind of melded together, and everyone sort of talked


about it like one was a solution for the other.


On the one hand, we have all of these people who are


hungry, and on the other hand, we have food that’s not being eaten.


So we put them together, and then we’ve solved two problems.


We’ve got reduced waste, and we’ve fed hungry people.


Like, this is so great.


And I thought, okay, well, that sounds cool.


That’s compelling.


And it got me thinking about food waste.


And subsequently, we’ve done some food waste work at lid.


But I think as I, and then with you guys and other colleagues,


got more into doing these projects, definitely thought sometimes, like,


is this actually the solution for the other?


Like, does this really go together?


So I thought that would be interesting.


So what tell us about the projects you’ve


done that kind of bring you to be in this conversation, you and.


I, we got the chance to work with the World Wildlife Fund,


and it was a project that was focused on food loss or waste.


The idea is they wanted to come up with solutions to food waste hotspots


that were happening anywhere in the supply chain between the farm to the retailer.


And so we worked for about eight months on this project.


It was a long project.


We did a lot of onsites.


We went to visited farms.


We visited processing facilities, food processing facilities.


We went to coolers, where they cool down these fresh fruit


really quickly to get them, enter them into the cold chain.


We went to distribution centers of retailers as well as retailer stores.


And all that came into two different reports, one for fresh strawberries,


the second for frozen potatoes, where we identified the hotspots.


And we came up with solutions that could


address each of those hotspots based on their importance and tried to come up


with ways to save the food and have it be used for human consumption.


Yes. And those reports are coming out in 2024.


Yes. At a known, quite hopeful, sometime soon.


And, Isaac, how about you?


Yeah, well, I was really brought into kind of the food banking world.


It was actually one of my first projects


at lid, working with Jeff Hamilton and the Greater Cleveland food Bank.


So that was really interesting.


A lot different from what I had seen


in my previous work, but that was a really good experience,


and then that really just brought me into the extended world.


So doing work with Piedmore,


western New York, and Buffalo, working with the greater Chicago food


depository, and then working with a variety of food banks in Canada.


And now you have many food bank.


Clients, and now we do.


It’s kind of exploded over the last six to nine months with the Food Banks Canada


network, but it’s been a really rewarding experience.


And just like, getting going with all


these different projects has opened up a lot of different opportunities,


but also a lot of learning about food rescue, food waste.


All these projects, the World Wildlife Fund,


the food bank projects, I find them interesting because


they’ve got a supply chain element and a business element,


but they also all have some kind of social or environmental aspect to them,


also where we as the team have to learn a whole bunch of laws or environmental


science or social policy or something else to understand what’s going on.


And I find that interesting.


So I think we should dive a little more


into what is food waste and what is the food at food banks,


and how are these two things connected, if they are connected?


So, Dan, I’ll turn to you first to say, can you tell us a little bit about when we


say food waste, that is a very wide range of things.


And can you sort of describe the landscape of that?


Sure. So I think,


just to start off with a definition, food waste would be any food that is grown


which does not end up being consumed by humans.


And so I think just a general statistic from refit is a third of all food produced


in the US does not end up in human consumption.


So the scale of it is quite important.


I think that translates to something like 149,000,000,000 meals annually.


So it’s a big problem, and one, if we can completely solve,


would address a lot of what these food banks are trying to do,


which is to feed people who are in food insecurity situations.


So as for the food waste itself,


it can happen at multiple stages of the supply chain,


anywhere from the farm level, where the food doesn’t make it out


of the furrows for whatever reason, whether it’s weather, pest pressure,


labor constraints, financial constraints of the farm,


whether it doesn’t make it past the inspection stages of a cooler,


where you’re trying to cool the berries down into the cold chain.


At a processing facility, you might have lots of raw,


unprocessed food that’s just falling off of a conveyor belt.


And that’s producing hundreds of millions


of tons a year of waste of just a specific food category of potatoes.


And then a little bit downstream of that, you’ve got waste at the handoff point


between these producers or suppliers of food,


as well as when they’re trying to sell it to the retailers, they might not accept


the quality of the food that they’re getting.


You might lose some quality in transport and when you’re exchanging hands.


And then at the retailers, the retailers are very effective at not


losing food in their distribution center because they’re touching it once or twice


between when it comes in and when it goes out.


But at the retailers, where you’re at the grocery stores,


there’s quite a significant amount of waste happening there.


The issue with that is that’s when you have the least amount of shelf life


remaining for the fruit to get it into the people’s hands.


And this is probably one of the important things we’re going to talk about today.




And fruit and all other kinds, especially perishables of all sorts,


meats and deli and cheese and everything, big goods, everything.


And then, of course, there’s food waste in people’s homes


and at restaurants and all the places that we eat food, there’s always excess food.


And there’s a lot of excess food.


We live in abundance.


Okay. And I think, yeah, we’ll go to food banks.


I think there’s maybe a.


I would call it a misconception, but maybe like a general


idea in the public mind that the food at the food bank comes because I put a can


into a big bin at the grocery store or at my kids school or something.


But that’s actually not really where


the food at the food bank comes from, for the most part.


So where does the food come from?


Yeah, it is maybe a little bit misleading


or conceptually that’s part of it, but not as big as some of us might think.


So at the surface, obviously, we see us personally making donations.


Part of that donation does go to the food


bank, but at a high level, the food bank purchases goods,


whether it’s food service, whether it’s manufacturers.




I think that’d be a surprise to people that the food bank actually uses,


like raises money and then spends a lot of money buying food.


And yeah, it’s kind of obvious when you think about it, but I bet if you ask kind


of the average person, they would not actually think that was the case.


So they do a lot of purchasing, they get a lot of donations


from the public, but also from manufacturers, distributors.


And I think one of the things that I’ve


seen, especially working with the US and working in Canada,


is just a contrast between the two systems, where in the US they rely a lot


more on federal programs, the government, Department of Agriculture,


supporting them, either through funding or through actual food donations.


Whereas in Canada it’s maybe a know.


The organization is maybe not as firm or as concrete as in the US.


We saw that in the Food Banks Canada project.


A lot of the food that is brought into a food bank and delivered to the end


users actually comes from within those communities.


So about 70%, based off the data that we had,


comes from either local donations, local manufacturers, or food rescue


in the various small communities right within the.


US, a lot is coming from programs that the federal government runs


where things might be shipped over a long distance to get to a food bank.


So the food banks are buying food, they’re getting food from the government


in the United States, they’re not in Canada, and they’re getting donations.


They’re getting donations from individuals, and then they’re getting


bigger donations and trying to rescue food.


Who is donating sort of at the corporate or institutional level?


Yeah, I think just in terms of donations, it could be any distributors or


manufacturers of food, or farmers, or farmers, a lot of restaurants.


And then I think what we’ve seen a lot in some of the work that we’ve done is


that organizations and food banks are thinking a lot more about food rescue.


And how can they not necessarily work with the large manufacturers or


distributors, but work with these smaller grocery stores to take advantage of some


of the food that could be wasted at that level?


So there are food banks, and then they’re food rescue


organizations, which are a little bit different.


And talk about some of the efforts in food


rescue and what those kinds of organizations are trying to do.


Yeah, so food rescue is something that,


when I started working with food banks, I wasn’t too familiar with.


So that was something that we kind of got


acclimated to relatively quickly, essentially at kind of a high level.


Food rescue is,


or food rescue in practice, is the food banks going to local


distributors, going to local manufacturers,


grocery stores, smaller restaurants, and looking for food that is at or near


expiry to be received into and then distributed out of their facilities?


I think what we’ve also seen with a lot of the food banks is just how much


resources and how much time and effort it takes to execute upon this.


Food rescue donations can range


from a full truckload of pallets, from manufacturers to a couple of boxes


of food that is donated to a local grocery store.


So it just takes a lot of time


and transportation resources, sortation resources at the food bank


that they don’t necessarily have to be able know, maybe


generate a small amount of ready food to be distributed to the public.




Dan, given all the things you saw in the World Wildlife Fund project,


what were some of the complexities of saving the food?


We saw a lot of food waste, but then why was it hard to save it?


Yeah, certainly to connect directly


to Isaac’s point right there, what we saw at the store level is


just the logistics of trying to schedule pickups from these food rescue


organizations was too much for them to be able to manage.


If they had an order, they basically got their three boxes of,


they repurpose banana boxes and throw whatever food they capture.


That ends up getting kind of food bank, let’s say, as an adjustment out of their


inventory, and they’re ready to send it out the door if that pickup then doesn’t


show up, or they show up and the boxes are on this shelf instead of this shelf,


and they can’t find it, and then they leave,


the food rescue organization is kind of upset because they spent their


resources and then the store can’t necessarily manage on that level


when they have so many labor challenges themselves


and just trying to find time in their employees day.


Like any grip food major retailer struggle to find the labor they need right now.


And so to think about just doing all these additional tasks on top of all of the work


they have to do to enable, like, two or three boxes to go at the door right


at the time it’s expired, because they’ve held that food as long as


they possibly can to try and save and sell the food either at full price or


a discounted price before they kind of are willing to let it be rescued.


And so those are the kind of inherent


challenges on the other side, at least at the retailer level.




And in the aggregate, there’s a lot of grocery stores, like,


it’s a lot of food, but it’s spread out at so many stores,


and so many different people have to be involved in the logistics of it.


There’s not a lot of economies of scale.


And so that makes it hard on the farm.


Like, you and I were on some strawberry farms in California,


which was pretty cool, and there were a lot of strawberries


on the ground, though, that did not, that were perfectly fine.


And I picked some of them up and ate them,


but a lot of strawberries did not make it into the clamshells and off the field.


But then it’s like, well, so much strawberries,


but why is it so hard to get them out of the field and save them?


So there’s a few different reasons.


One can be just the quality of the food


at the time it’s supposed to be ripe isn’t exactly there, which can be due to worse


weather conditions earlier on in the season.


They didn’t get enough chill time at night.


For whatever reason, they’re not perfectly


ripe when the harvest passed through that section of the field.


And that’s one of the reasons.


But I would say the major reason,


and we have maybe a little bit more control over, is truly the labor.


And what it is, is it’s just very difficult work to pick a strawberry.


It’s are extremely labor intensive.


You’re picking a very bushy plant, maybe less than a foot off the ground,


and you’re doing back breaking work all day long.


And then you’re also being paid by a piece rate.


And so you’re getting a base salary plus


the amount of clamshells that you’re picking for that day.


And so if you ask the worker to slow down


so that they can capture more of the fruit, to not miss any.


To not miss any on the plant, it’s leafy.


You got to check behind the leaves what you’re going to miss if


you ask them to do that, it’s such a competitive labor environment


that they will walk off that farm and go to the farm next door.


Who’s willing to pay them to pick as fast


as they can so they can make their better hourly salary?




There’s so much complexity to the practicality, like practical physical


efforts of moving things and getting things out of the ground and moved around.


And so I think sometimes people will wave their hands and just say, like, oh, well,


we can use all this wasted food to serve hungry people.


And you’re like, have you really seen all


the logistics, all of the stuff that goes into the food supply chain.


Even if you captured it at the farm, you still need to distribute that food


and get it into all the mouths that you want to feed, which are everywhere,


which are closer to where the retailer stores are.


But that’s food that’s much more at risk of going bad very quickly.


And there’s the logistics of managing


the handoff to the rescue organizations, right?


Or some solutions that are like, we were looking at the strawberry piece


and someone said, well, what about gleaners?


We could have charities that want to glean.


And it was like, okay,


the volume of strawberries that is being grown is so enormously huge compared


to the number of volunteers who might be willing to do that.


And it’s back breaking work, as you said.


So it’s just like these are really out


of scope or on the food banking side or food rescue.


Like all the grocery stores


in the United States and in Canada, they produce a lot of waste.


And then you’re relying on series of charities that are not as big.


These charities are not nearly as big as major grocers.


So the scale sometimes is just like the scales of the solution is just


different than the scale of what’s generating the waste.


Do we have anything uplifting to say,


any hopes, any things we saw that would be innovative solutions to this problem?


So in terms of solutions, things that we found within the scope


of the World Wildlife Fund project, there were many.


Some of them address larger hotspots than others.


And one of the more actionable ones are


really at the retailer level and at the retail level.


What we can try and implement are things like dynamic pricing.




And so dynamic pricing comes in many, many forms.


It’s as simple as kind of the produce manager at your local grocer who says,


all right, this is on its way out here, let’s mark this down.


And so they roll back the price, and that’s dynamic pricing,


is adjusting the price to try and drive the food to be sold before it goes bad.


And there’s a lot of new ways with artificial intelligence,


new ways with electronic price tags where they can consider demand fluctuations


in real time, price the food to go in real time and try and drive the sales


and enable the product to be sold before it gets to that point


where there’s going to be an attempt to try and food bank it.


But a lot of the time you might miss the timing on the pickup.


And so that’s something that I’m excited


about personally, and I think has a lot of potential.


There’s been a lot of grocers, I think, in Europe and some of the more green


grocery stores in North America who have started to use that,


and it’s going to continue to grow as an actionable solution.


I have one.


I came across this organization,


and I haven’t worked with them, but I had a nice chat with the fellow who runs it.


It’s called rethink food in New York.


And what I thought was interesting is they are doing two things that try to get


at logistical problems in what we’ve been describing.


So one is they pay restaurants to make food that’s donated to charity.


In other words, they’re using kitchens that are idle.


So they say to the restaurants, if you’ve got kitchen space, that’s not being used.


So it was like, okay,


there’s a way to try to have some supply chain infrastructure in the kitchen


and then connect it with this charitable food network.


And they’re also running their own kitchen where they take donated food.


So it can be like all different kinds of things show up.


And then their chefs are able to convert


that into usable meals because they’re creative about how they run that kitchen.


And I thought their model, I don’t know that they would


say that they would think of it in the supply chain infrastructure way


that we’re thinking about it, but that’s what it said to me was, oh,


you’ve found ways to try to find idle infrastructure and make use of it.


So that seemed promising.


There’s a lot of food banks, food rescue organizations, I mean, many,


many that are doing amazing work all the time and saving food.


But I think sometimes the rhetoric can be


a little over an over promise about how that we’re going to.


Well, I used to say kill two birds with 1 st, but I don’t like that expression.


And I recently learned feed two birds


with one scone as a new replacement, a less violent replacement.


To some extent, I think food waste,


obviously, saving food can help feed hungry people.


That’s true.


But there’s no free lunch, no pun intended.


It costs money. It costs time.


And so it’s like, who in this whole system is going to pay for it?


I think that’s another big piece,


is the funding streams and who’s willing to pay to save and to move


and to transform all this stuff in order to keep it.


Let’s build world-class infrastructure together.

Book a Consultation

Are you ready for logistics automation?

Take our readiness quiz to find out!

Begin Assessment