To Tackle Food Waste, Big Grocery Chain Will Sell Produce Rejects


by Allison Aubrey, NPR

It’s easy to blame someone else for food waste. If this is really a $2.6 trillion issue, as the United Nations estimates, then who’s in charge of fixing it?

Turns out, we the eaters play a big role here.

When we shop with our eyeballs in the produce aisle, our expectations for perfection contribute to the problem.

We’ve come to expect a dazzling array of eye candy with beautiful displays of cosmetically perfect fruits and vegetables.

But, of course, nature serves up much more variation.

And now, a big grocery chain in the West called Raley’s is taking a swing at the food waste problem by trying to get customers to embrace the differences.

Raley’s announced Tuesday it will begin selling less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables in July.

But let’s go back to where it all begins: the farm. As part of a collaboration with PBS NewsHour, we hit the fields of Salinas Valley, Calif., for a reality check.

On a cauliflower field, we found lots of slightly yellow heads of cauliflower.

“You see how it just has that yellow tinge to it?” Art Barrientos of Ocean Mist Farms points out. “This is not marketable.”

There’s nothing wrong with these heads of cauliflower. The yellow tint comes from sun exposure. It’s crunchy and every bit as nutritious as white cauliflower.

“But this just doesn’t meet our standards,” Barrientos says as we give it a taste.

The marketplace demands white, blemish-free, perfectly sized heads. So, these heads are plowed under.

The story is similar with misshapen crowns of broccoli and peaches that aren’t perfectly shaped or colored. Harold McLarty of HMC Farms in Kingsburg, Calif., says 35 percent of his crop never makes it to market. Much of his surplus goes to cattle feed.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that depending on the crop- anywhere from 1 to 30 percent of farmers’ crops don’t get to the grocery store.

And, as we’ve reported, food is wasted at every step in the supply chain — during transportation and processing and once it gets to our refrigerators.

So think of everything that goes into growing crop: the water, fertilizer, fuel to run the tractor. Ultimately if these crops don’t measure up to standards they’re often plowed under in the field.

“80 percent of our water, 10 percent of our energy, 40 percent of our land is used to grow our food,” says Peter Lehner of the NRDC. And, according to this NRDC report, up to 40 percent of the food produced never gets eaten. “It’s crazy,” Lehner says.

Food waste is among the biggest contributors to landfills in the U.S. And Lehner says, this creates another problem: “When [food] rots, it emits methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas.” Food waste is responsible for a significant portion of methane emissions.

There are new efforts underway to reduce food waste. The Environmental Protection Agency has a Food Recovery Challenge that diverts about 375,000 tons of food waste.

And some producers, including Ocean Mist and HMC Farms, donate some of the less-than-perfect produce to the California food banks.

Over the last decade, the California Association of Food Banks says it has doubled the amount of produce it distributes, thanks in part these kinds of donations.

“This year, we hope to grow the California Farm to Family program by over 70 million pounds,” says Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco Marin Food Banks. And he hopes to expand the program to other parts of the country.

Part of that growth has been fueled by a novel way of collecting surplus produce. For cauliflower and broccoli growers, who pack their products in the field as they’re being harvested, there’s now a co-packing system. As the workers slice and harvest the crop, they pack the premium heads in boxes headed to grocery stores. And they separate out the less-then-perfect seconds and pack them in crates destined for the food banks.

It’s a simple process. But it’s tough to recruit more farmers to join in. Only three out of 25 broccolli and cauliflower growers in California participate.

Why? “It’s a lot easier and cheaper just to basically throw [unmarketable produce] away,” says Harold McLarty of HMC Farms. He says he’d like to donate more of his peaches to the food banks, but, “there’s got to be an economic incentive.”

The state of California offers tax credits to farmers who donate produce, but the food banks are lobbying for bigger deductions. And, there are only six other states besides California that give tax breaks to growers for donating food.

As food banks work to expand their programs, some entrepreneurs say there are so many seconds to go around, they see a whole new business model: selling imperfect produce at discounted prices.

As we’ve reported, a French supermarket chain launched a campaign last year to sell what they dubbed: “the grotesque apple, and the ridiculous potato.” The concept has so far worked well in France.

Here in the U.S., entrepreneurs behind a venture called Imperfect Produceare betting they can turn Americans on to less-than-perfect produce, too.

In this promotional fundraising video, the start-up’s co-founder Ben Simon explains how it works: “You get a box of seasonal ugly produce delivered to your door every week and because this produce looks a little funky on the outside you get it for 30 to 50 percent less.” They plan to start delivery in the San Francisco area sometime this summer.

And, it seems at least one major grocer chain may give it a go. Imperfect has just inked a deal with high-end chain, Raley’s, which has more than 100 stores in California and Nevada. The chain says it will launch a pilot program, “Real Good” produce, in 10 Northern California stores in mid-July.

Raley’s Megan Burritt says she’s working on in-store education. When customers are picking up a funky looking double cherry or an apple that may look like a reject, she wants them to see it in a new way. Perhaps she’ll market them as the underdogs of the produce aisle. “Who doesn’t love an underdog story!” Burritt says.


Wasted food is a huge climate problem

By John Upton, Grist

If wasted food became its own pungent country, it would be the world’s third biggest contributor to climate change.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization had previously determined that roughly one-third of food is wasted around the world. Now it has used those figures to calculate the environmental impacts of farming food that is never eaten, along with the climate-changing effects of the methane that escapes from food as it rots.

The results, published in a new report [PDF], were as nauseating as a grub-infested apple:

Without accounting for [greenhouse gas] emissions from land use change, the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated to 3.3 Gtonnes of CO2 equivalent: as such, food wastage ranks as the third top emitter after USA and China. Globally, the blue water footprint (i.e. the consumption of surface and groundwater resources) of food wastage is about 250 km3, which is equivalent to the annual water discharge of the Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. Finally, produced but uneaten food vainly occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares of land; this represents close to 30 percent of the world’s agricultural land area.

In the West, most of our food waste occurs because we toss out leftovers and unused ingredients — and because stores won’t sell ugly produce. The FAO found that some farmers dump 20 to 40 percent of their harvest because it “doesn’t meet retailer’s cosmetic specifications.” In developing countries, by contrast, most of the wasted food rots somewhere between the field and the market because of insufficient refrigeration and inefficient supply chains.

The FAO estimates that when we throw away more than 1 gigaton of food every year, we are throwing away $750 billion with it — an estimate that doesn’t include wasted seafood and bycatch.

“All of us — farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers — must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in a statement. “We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day.”

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

Potawatomi Break Ground on Biogas Plant—Converting Food Waste to Electricity

 Rendering of the Forest County Potawatomi Community's renewable generation facility (
Rendering of the Forest County Potawatomi Community’s renewable generation facility (

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

By this time next year, the Forest County Potawatomi Community-owned FCPC Renewable Generation, LLC is anticipated to complete its food waste-to-energy facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The company recently broke ground on the copy8.6 million renewable energy facility in the Menomonee Valley that will convert liquid and solid food wastes to biogas through an anaerobic digestion process. The biogas will fuel two 1-megawatt generators to produce a total of approximately 2 megawatts of gross electrical power output—enough electricity to power about 1,500 homes. The power will be sold to WE Energies, the local electrical utility.

The “Community Renewable Energy Deployment” project, better known as CommRE, is being developed one block west of Potawatomi Bingo Casino on tribal land.

Construction of the facility is expected to create nearly 100 construction jobs at its peak and an additional five full-time jobs after completion.

“This project is an example of how renewable energy projects can benefit both the environment and the local economy. It will not only keep waste from our landfills, but also provides opportunities to partner with other local businesses and industries,”  Jeff Crawford, attorney general for the Forest County Potawatomi Community, told the Milwaukee Community Journal. “We hope that this project will allow others to see the many benefits that small-scale renewable energy projects can bring to communities.”

Beyond the renewable energy facility, the Tribe is also currently developing a $36 million data center on the Concordia Trust property on Milwaukee’s near west side and a copy50 million, 381-room hotel adjacent to Potawatomi Bingo Casino in the Menomonee Valley.

“The Forest County Potawatomi have called Milwaukee home for hundreds of years,” said Crawford. “We are proud of our ongoing investments in the area which help make Milwaukee, and Wisconsin, an even better place live and do business.”