Food loss and waste take center stage

Countries are increasingly putting regulations and incentives in place to reverse food loss and waste. Companies are launching high-impact innovations, including using recovered food to make new products. NGOs are launching initiatives of their own to channel funding and guide consumers.

These are some of the reveals shared by Robert Hoffman, partner at Puerto Rico-based Homera, during a wide-ranging presentation delivered September 27 at the two-day Food Tech Summit & Expo in Mexico City. Homera represents U.S. organic brands in Latin America and offers sustainability consulting to small and midsize businesses.

The good news, though, was tempered by a sobering reality. One trillion dollars, or roughly a third of all food grown or produced, is thrown away, never enjoying human consumption, he told the audience at one of the premier food industry events of the year.

“We could actually eliminate all hunger on the planet, feed about 2 billion people, with the 1.3 trillion tons lost or wasted across the entire food chain.”

As the world’s population grows and stretches resources, food among them, slashing food loss and waste would mean feeding more people with significantly less use of arable land and such climate-change forcers as energy, water and transport.

Hoffman highlighted the role of the Champions 12.3 Coalition in accelerating progress toward achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which calls for halving retail and consumer food waste and dramatically reducing post-harvest, supply-chain and production loss by 2030. Homera is a Friends of Champions 12.3 member.

While the word “waste” is generically used to refer to all types, industry analyses use food loss when referring to production, post-harvest, processing, handling, storage and distribution, and waste when addressing the retail and consumption stages of the chain. On the latter, Champions has shown in a series of reports how various industries achieve high returns for every dollar saved on food waste.

In his September 27 presentation, Hoffman x-rayed the remarkable region-to-region variance in food loss and waste across these segments. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 23% of all food is lost or wasted. Of that, a bare 5% is wasted at the consumption stage, and a whopping 76% is lost at the handling, storage and production stages. In North America, by contrast, far more total food is lost and wasted, 42%, and of that, 61% happens at the consumption level, while only 23% is lost during handling, storage and production.

Hoffman also ran through the challenging agenda ahead, as companies across the chain rush to improve results. Among the tasks:

  • Reducing overstocking of store displays and shelves

  • Promoting the purchase of “ugly” yet perfectly good food

  • Fine tuning sell-by dates

  • Achieving donation-incentive legislation to reduce the cost of giving away unsold food

  • Improving transport, refrigeration, storage, technology and training practices

“The response to the talk was highly encouraging at and has been since the event,” he concluded, on an optimistic note. “Everyone wins here, and no doubt that will prove to be the main driver. Companies make more money by slashing loss and waste, consumers save a ton of money and improve their lifestyles, governments reduce hunger and malnutrition, and the planet gets a break. That makes this one of the most important objectives of the 21st century.”