We've all seen supermarket shelves brimming with fresh food ready for consumption. But what happens to the products that don't make it into our shopping baskets? The harsh truth is that a significant amount of this food ends up in the trash, contributing to a waste problem that impacts our society, economy, and environment.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), supermarkets in Mexico waste an estimated 20 million tons of food each year. This is equivalent to the weight of 20,000 trucks. The FAO also estimates that this food waste could feed more than 28 million people in Mexico, a significant amount that could help alleviate hunger and malnutrition in the country. Despite the enormity of this problem, only around 3% of all wasted food is donated.
The Cost of Food Waste
So, who foots the bill when food goes to waste in supermarkets? Contrary to popular belief, it is not primarily the supermarkets that pay the cost. Having worked in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry for eight years, I've seen firsthand that these companies often shoulder the burden. CPG companies typically agree to reimburse supermarkets for unsold products. This agreement leads the companies to lose an average of 4% due to food waste. In categories like dairy, baked goods, or meats, these losses sometimes reach up to 10%.
The result of this system is that CPGs must hike their prices to offset these costs, which ultimately falls on the consumer. Furthermore, food waste has a significant environmental impact. Foods that are produced but not consumed represent an unnecessary expenditure of resources like water and land, and account for 10% of global CO2 emissions.
Solutions and Best Practices
To tackle this problem, it is vital that all stakeholders in the food supply chain take action. This includes supermarkets, CPGs, and consumers. From adopting technologies for better inventory management to educating consumers about responsible purchasing, we all can play a part in reducing food waste.
One of the most promising solutions is the adoption of technology that can help monitor and control inventory in real time. With such technologies, supermarkets can track the shelf life of products, reduce overstocking, and facilitate timely discounts or donations before the food expires. Several tech startups are developing these types of solutions, and they have seen success in reducing food waste. But this is just the beginning. As technology advances and becomes more accessible, we can expect even more sophisticated solutions in the future.
Beyond technological innovation, changes in legislation and policies could also play a crucial role in reducing food waste. Governments around the world are starting to take notice of this issue, implementing policies to incentivize food donations, penalize unnecessary waste, and encourage sustainable practices. Mexico could benefit significantly from similar initiatives.
In addition to technological solutions and policy changes, education plays a crucial role. Consumers are often unaware of the magnitude of the food waste problem and its impact. By providing clear information about the issue and how consumers can make a difference — for instance, by buying imperfect produce, understanding expiration dates, and planning meals — we can significantly reduce waste at the consumption level. Schools, community groups, and media outlets all have a part to play in spreading this message and promoting a culture of zero waste.
Finally, it's clear who bears the most significant cost. In recent years, innovative platforms have emerged that give consumers the opportunity to take action against food waste. These platforms connect consumers with businesses that have surplus food, making it easier for them to buy at discounted prices. This helps consumers save money, reduces the financial charge on CPG companies, and most importantly, reduces the amount of food that goes to waste.
While the issue of food waste in Mexico is complex and multifaceted, the solution is in our hands. By working together — supermarkets, CPG companies, consumers, governments, and tech companies — we can minimize food waste, save resources, and contribute to a more sustainable future. It's not just about saving money or protecting the environment; it's about creating a more equitable society where everyone has access to food. It's time we take responsibility and make a concerted effort toward a world where no food goes to waste.