Targeting Food Waste Across the Value Chain: Delhaize Belgium and Luxembourg’s Comprehensive Strategy
Working for years to reduce food waste has taught us that the conditions that contribute to food being discarded are found at nearly every stage of the food value chain. Only about 10% of food waste happens at the retail level – which means we can’t solve the problem alone.
To minimize food waste, we have engaged a long list of partners – from producers and packagers to our retail associates and customers – in complementary programs that address this complex problem. In 2015, this approach involved several new initiatives alongside expansions of successful existing programs.
Starting with suppliers
Some produce becomes waste before it even makes it to stores, simply because suppliers discard it for being misshapen, discolored or blemished. So in 2015, we partnered with suppliers in Belgium to offer customers some of this produce that looked imperfect, but still met our standards for nutrition and taste.
We marketed mixed assortments of “ugly vegetables,” including cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, in 2.5 kg.-boxes that sold for a fixed price. We also created juice from “ugly apples” (watch the video).
At the end of the 3-month pilot program, we had sold more than 41 000 3-liter containers of juice and more than 6 000 boxes of produce. The latter amounted to 15 tonnes of “ugly” vegetables that in the past wouldn’t have made it to consumers. The program was so popular that we will expand it to 50 stores in 2016.
Promoting better packaging
Vacuum packaging preserves freshness and extends foods’ shelf life, but this packaging method isn’t widely used in Belgium and Luxembourg. To promote its advantages, we began selling premium meat – including our European Beef range – in vacuum packages that extended the meat’s shelf life from 3 to a minimum of 9 days.
We used in-store messages and articles in the Delhaize magazine to familiarize customers with this new packaging style and explain its many advantages. This project was recognized with the Greener Packaging Award from the Belgian packaging recycling organizations Fost Plus and VAL-I-PAC (watch the video).
Implementing distribution and retail store improvements
Our modern distribution centers are automated or partially automated, allowing us to shorten the time between field and store to reduce food waste. Our automated stock management also decreases overstock in stores.
We also offer discounts to promote sales of products that have almost reached their “use by date.” This is an efficient way to reduce food waste and give our customers an opportunity to save.
Expanding food donations
Our successful program that donates unsold fresh and packaged food from stores to local charities and food banks had hit a roadblock in 2014: The lack of clarity around the legal status of donating fresh produce in Belgium. In 2015, we worked with the Belgian government to clarify those regulations and to prove our food donations process was safe. This allowed us to expand the program from 26 to 81 participating stores and warehouses, and to more than double the percentage of unsold food we donated. We also made investments to improve the food donation process, such as distributing free coolers to organizations to help them transport food safely (watch the video).
We continued our Food Respect campaign that encouraged customers to reduce food waste at home. Through in-store demonstrations and web and print articles, we offered tips on preventing food spoilage, as well as creative recipes for using food that might otherwise get thrown away (watch the video).
Promoting the circular economy
In addition to donating unsold to nonprofits and charities, we look for other innovative solutions to reduce food waste. One of our most unusual is a 2015 partnership with the Brussels Beer Project to use our unsold bread to produce local beer, which is then sold exclusively in our Brussels stores.
We launched the project after more than a year of research, in collaboration with Atelier Groot Eiland, an NGO that combats unemployment. The NGO trained their collaborators to collect unsold bread donated by our stores and deliver it to the Brussels brewery. In 2015, we sold 8 445 liters of the resulting Babylone Beer, made from more than 1 000 kg of donated bread.
Even the food we were not able to sell, donate or repurpose did not go to waste in 2015. Instead, it was converted into biomass energy.
As a company, we want to do everything in our power to limit food waste in every possible way. We also continuously look for ways to create new products from what was once discarded, contributing to the circular economy. Our goals are ambitious, but we believe we can reach them if we continue to work together with our suppliers, customers and associates.
Waste Management Project Coordinator, Delhaize Belgium