As the 30th driest country in the world, with 62% of our available water being used for irrigation, South Africa cannot afford to waste food at the levels it has historically. Like Europeans and Americans, South Africans are beginning to wake up to the consequences of food waste.
And, in a world where differentiation is becoming increasingly tough, this presents a real opportunity for brands to stand out amongst their competitors. Through innovation that keeps food fresher for longer and communication that positively affects food-saving behaviour, brands can offer true differentiation by contributing to society and better meeting the needs of their consumers.
This is the opinion of Added Value South Africa’s Camilla Fanning, who says that, according to a lecture given by Research Group Leader: Waste For Development in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Natural Resources & the Environment unit, Dr Suzan Oelofse, more than half the food wasted in developed regions like the US, Europe and Australia was down to consumers consciously throwing their food away, be it leftovers or an expired loaf of bread.
“However, in the developing world, most food is lost before it even reaches the consumer – damaged and discarded during harvesting, packaging and transporting. In South Africa, Dr Oelofse says this results in 9-million tons – or 31% of average local production – of food being lost each year, equating to R61.5-billion or 2.1% of South Africa’s GDP.
“I agree that the loss is unacceptable in a country facing food insecurity. In addition, food waste in landfills rots away, producing methane gas, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And, all the resources – water, electricity, fertiliser – behind producing the food disappear, too.”
The good news, says Fanning, is that both companies and consumers now have access to a growing number of initiatives that are making it easier to waste-not …solutions that go from farm, to store, to fridge and all the way through to trash.
Here are a few examples from around the world that South Africa could learn from:
Farm Auctions: CropMobster™ ensures that no farmer has to throw away unsold food. It links communities in need with local farmers, producers and food purveyors who can quickly sell or donate excess produce.
Clever Food Service: Sodexo food service has begun operating more than 300 ‘trayless’ cafeterias on college campuses, discouraging students from overloading their trays and thus resulting in a 30 percent reduction in food waste. Restaurant companies like Darden (Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster) have put systems into place to distribute their surplus to soup kitchens throughout the country. The ex-president of Trader Joe’s is launching a new retail venture this fall: The Daily Table will buy back supermarkets’ still edible fresh produce deemed unsellable and market it as ‘excess inventory’ at deeply discounted prices, a la TJ Maxx.
Fresher Fridge: FreshPaper™ by Fenugreen has launched a simple piece of paper infused with spices that organically keeps fruits and veggies fresh for 2-4 times longer. Designers like jihyun david are even looking at ways to create ‘food symbiosis’ in your fridge: for example, putting apples which emit ethylene gas next to potatoes apparently prevents the latter from sprouting. And Google, in recognition of the fact that queries for ‘leftovers’ surged by one-third in comparison to last year, has collaborated with the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to launch Food Rescue. It’s a new app that lets people dictate up to nine ingredients into their smartphones to immediately get recipe combinations for their leftover food.
Trash Power: A growing number of companies are monetizing even rotten food. Harvest Power has 40 plants across the North America that take food waste, as well as leaves and yard trimmings, and, through anaerobic digestion and composting, transform them into renewable energy to power neighbourhood homes and natural fertilizer which it sells to farmers and landscapers.
“So, elsewhere in the world, we are slowly making progress in reducing food waste, but there is still substantial room for improvement. The food industry relies too heavily on promotional offers that encourage excess purchases of perishable items,” says Fanning.
“If we’re going to wind up throwing food away, buying lots of it on promo isn’t a very good deal. Brands should rethink this policy. Whilst some retailers like Woolworths, offer smaller packs for the young executive mid-week supper, there is still a lot of room for more personalised portion sizing that prevents people from buying more than they need. Together with re-sealable bags, back of pack education on how to better store perishable ingredients can make a real difference.
“If brands want to stand out from the clutter and be seen to be doing the right thing, now is the time to innovate and stake claim to a new space in the consumer mind: responsible eating for our waistbands, our wallets and our planet.”