The Opportunities in Food Waste

1/3 of the food produced for human consumption is wasted every year, which is US$990 billion in monetary value. This leads to a business opportunity many companies can take a part in. Yet, there are different stages where food is lost, depending on the country. In developing countries, 40% of the food loss is during harvest and post-harvest. In developed countries, 40% of food loss is at the retail and consumer level.

Food loss Diagram. The difference between food loss and food waste, the sources and reasons for each.

Source: Euromonitor International

So what are the opportunities in food waste?

The growing momentum in food loss/waste is creating new business opportunities. Some of the key areas are smart consumer appliances such as refrigerators and innovative food packaging. Financial institutions have the opportunity to provide innovative loan packages to smallholder farmers in developing countries. Venture capitalists can invest in new initiatives designed to prevent food loss/waste and channel food waste into other productive economic activities. Recycling plants and renewable energy generators can take advantage of the new opportunities awarded by the growing concern relating to food loss/waste. Waste management companies can develop thriving consulting arms which can help clients manage waste in more productive and environmentally friendly ways. There is growing scope for collaboration – for example between recycling and waste management companies.

Preventing food loss during harvesting and post-harvest stages

The most common method is using fertilisers and pesticides to prevent damage on account of weed, fungi and insects. There are negative impacts of fertilisers and pesticides including long running health issues for farmers and pollution of water, soil and air.

For post-harvest, there are small scale innovations such as airtight hermetic bags to preserve crops since the most common reason for food loss during post-harvest in developing countries is smallholder farmers not having access to the necessary tools and lack of warehouses with cooling facilities to store harvest. This stage would benefit from more investment.

Preserving food during distribution

Food loss at this stage is more common in developing countries due to a shortage of vehicles with cooling facilities in the hot and humid climate during the distribution process. Poor road infrastructure also means that it takes longer for crops/harvest to reach their destination. Not enough solutions are in place to address this kind of food loss except where larger food producers such as Chiquita have their own supply chain.

Preventing food loss/waste in retailing and food service and at the consumer stage

Some retailers are using digital media to inform people of surplus food they may otherwise dispose of. The Consumer Foodservice industry is taking a more structured approach to waste by measuring the actual volume of waste to set specific targets for waste reduction.

The consumer stage is one of the most dynamic areas in which both large and small entrepreneurs are investing. This involves using digital media to track surplus food as well as channelling it to those who may have a use for it. In addition, the creation of smart fridges, smart packaging and storage innovation is underway.

Case study: Independent farmers benefit from Chiquita’s resources

Chiquita Brands International Sarl is one of the world’s leading producers and distributors of bananas with a revenue of US$3 bn. Chiquita is a Swiss producer and distributor of bananas and operates in 70 countries. The company’s banana plantations are based in Latin America. Bananas are mostly grown in its own farms, but it also works with independent suppliers. These independent farmers are benefitting from working with a large firm, which has the resources to invest in cold chains to prevent damage, unlike the smallholder farmers working on their own. Chiquita is also working with independent farmers to improve their farming techniques and working conditions.