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Reducing our waste size

food waste

Steven Finn of Leanpath explains the company’s approach to reducing food waste in the foodservice sector through automation, tracking and preventative action.

Global food waste is one of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. One prominent report noted that between 30 and 50% of all food produced annually (between 1.2 and 2bn tonnes) is lost or wasted before reaching a human stomach[1]. In the US, up to 40% of food goes uneaten, an average of roughly 9kg per person per month[2]. Such extreme levels of food loss and waste are incomprehensible considering that more than 800 million global citizens are hungry.

In addition, food wastage has serious environmental consequences in the form of resource and soil depletion, biodiversity loss, water pollution and air pollution – mainly in the form of methane emissions contributing to climate change. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO) notes that if ranked as a country, food waste would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only the US and China[3]. Wasted food means wasted water – the World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that food loss and waste accounts for more than 170tn litres of water annually (24% of all water used in agriculture)[4].

Clearly, we must sharply reduce food loss and waste if we are to successfully feed an additional two billion global citizens by 2050. Recent reports from both WRI[5] and the EAT-Lancet Commission[6] emphasise the need to reduce food waste to enable a sustainable future. Notably, Project Drawdown[7] ranked food waste reduction as the third most impactful intervention to counter global warming. Fortunately, awareness of the global food waste challenge is on the rise, buoyed by the work of NGOs, such as WRAP, Feedback, the World Resources Institute, the World Wildlife Fund and ReFED. These organisations are advancing work across multiple sectors to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 (aka Target 12.3), which calls for halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030 and reducing food losses along production and supply chains.

Wastage in foodservice

Foodservice organisations have a unique opportunity to play a major role in advancing progress towards Target 12.3 due to their global reach, massive volume and extensive supply chains. Compass Group, for example, serves over five billion meals annually – that is about 15 million meals daily. Aramark serves more than two billion meals per year, while Sodexo serves 100 million customers daily in 80 countries. Global enterprises like IKEA and Google also serve millions of meals to patrons and employees annually. Such volume provides clear opportunity for these organisations to lead food waste reduction efforts at scale, and increasingly, consumers expect them to demonstrate responsible efforts in this regard. Further, because food waste reduction efforts result in triple bottom line benefits – reducing costs, reducing environmental harm and inspiring the workforce – they are an important driver of competitive advantage.

While many organisations address the recovery and redistribution of excess food, Leanpath is a company that focuses on helping foodservice organisations to achieve food waste prevention using a measurement-based approach. Its aim is to make food waste prevention an everyday practice in the world’s kitchens by providing the tools, analytics and expertise to enable responsible organisations to commit to cutting their food waste in half. The food waste prevention platform enables organisations to cut costs in a number of ways – the cost of the food itself, the associated costs of labour, production, utilities, disposal and the opportunity cost of lost sales/profit. Further, prevention of food waste maximises societal benefit, avoiding unnecessary consumption of resources and the associated environmental externalities that would otherwise be incurred in the production and transportation of food that ultimately winds up in landfills and freeing resources (such as human capital and labour) for other beneficial purposes.

Despite their best intentions, all kitchens have some level of food waste – and in many cases – a lot of waste (Figure 1). In US foodservice operations, between 4 and 10% of food purchases are discarded before reaching the consumer’s plate. For an operation with $1m in food spend, that translates to between $40,000 and $100,000 in cost for reasons such as overproduction, spoilage and trim waste. Between $9 and $23bn of pre-consumer food waste is generated by the US out-of-home restaurant and foodservice industry annually. For decades, food waste has been the ‘elephant in the kitchen’ – extensive yet largely invisible – and tolerated due to a societal culture of abundant food coupled with easy disposal options.

Leanpath aims to bring visibility to food waste in foodservice operations in multiple sectors, including hospitality, healthcare, colleges and universities, and in global business enterprises (such as Aramark, Sodexo, IKEA and Google). It is essential that kitchen teams uncover the types of food that are being wasted, the quantities and why, so that they can make operational changes to reduce their waste level while also taking steps to change team behaviour.

Figure 1 Site level example - most
important reasons for loss of food in foodservice operations in terms of value

Behaviour change

Food waste is a behavioural problem - successful prevention requires the empowerment of frontline foodservice workers to track, measure and analyse food waste, thus creating a culture of food waste prevention.

The process begins by connecting culinary teams to the scope and scale of the global food waste challenge, while simultaneously demonstrating the substantial value in tracking and measuring waste. In addition, it is important that food waste tracking becomes ‘safe’ behaviour – without blame – maximising the tracking and measurement of waste helps the kitchen to learn from those transactions and take preventative action. As with any change initiative, positivity and meaning are essential, and visibility fosters engagement.

Compass Group’s Racheal Newmyer noted that Leanpath’s implementation at Google had started a conversation between chefs and managers, as well as line cooks, dishwashers and even senior leaders. Operating in 189 Google cafes in 26 countries, Leanpath has enabled the company to prevent 2.7m kg of food waste from going to landfill in the last five years. Another organisation in the education sector noted that most of the suggestions driving food waste reduction came from the frontline staff, indicating the power of an engaged, waste-conscious workforce.

Tools for monitoring waste

Leanpath provides a suite of integrated hardware and software solutions (bench scales, cameras, portable tablets, floor scales, and displays) with location-customised software that allows foodservice workers to track all cases of food waste during each meal service. The tracking process can be simply defined as measure, analyse, optimise and empower.

Tracking units are customised to align with client menu choices, food costs, pan sizes, disposition codes, and more. Each transaction is weighed and critical data, such as food type, waste reason (e.g. overproduction, spoilage), location source and disposition (e.g. compost, donation, trash) are immediately captured through a customised user-interface. A bench scale unit links this data to a digital picture of each food waste transaction – enabling chefs to gain powerful visual insights into wastage at a glance at any time. These and many other transactional details are immediately stored in a cloud-based database. The data feeds an analytics programme, allowing foodservice operators to analyse the drivers of their food waste in any desired time period with a high level of granularity.

Shortly after installation, a ‘baseline’ level of food waste is established for each site, and change is measured against that baseline amount going forward. Leanpath’s coaching team works with chef champions in a consultative fashion, ensuring that all food waste is being tracked consistently and accurately, while also contributing suggestions for operational changes to maximise usage of food items while preventing the recurrence of food waste. Change opportunities are wide-ranging, including waste-smart forecasting, proper portioning, improved food preparation, increased repurposing, cooking-to-order later in shifts and buffet enhancements, to name a few.

The process quickly generates positive results. In the US, the University of Illinois has reduced food waste by 63% (635,000kg) since 2015 by implementing Leanpath tracking systems and making changes to reduce salad bar waste and increase repurposing opportunities. In Australia, the Novotel Brisbane cut food waste weight by 62% by revising production of high waste items, repurposing and exercising culinary creativity with items that would normally be discarded (e.g. turning orange peel into marmalade).

For decades, food waste has been the ‘elephant in the kitchen’ – extensive yet largely invisible – and tolerated due to a societal culture of abundant food coupled with easy disposal options.

Scales and display for tracking food waste

Graphics and reporting

The integrated dashboard provides graphics and reporting features, including waste overview summaries, detailed waste breakdowns, trend reports, participation reports, waste transaction listings – even talking points for chefs to utilise during weekly staff meetings. Users can adjust the date range to view data across various time periods, while also taking advantage of drill-down and sortation capability to slice their food waste data in myriad ways. In addition, they have the flexibility to view their data at the individual location level, for specific groupings of locations, or for a broad enterprise overview.

Trackers reinforce the power of the measurement process. Upon completion of each transaction, the user sees its financial cost, as well as the annualised cost of that specific transaction if it were to occur every day (as it often does in process-driven kitchens), along with various environmental impact equivalencies (Figure 2). Trackers also display data for the top wasted food from the prior week, along with food waste trend data and the change in food waste weight compared to the baseline level. As a result, the kitchen team receives continuous reinforcement of the financial and environmental costs of food waste – and they can be inspired to voice their own ideas on how to avoid repetitive waste (Figure 3).

Figure 2, top, Food waste data drives site-level environmental metrics

Figure 3, above, Data drive analytics that display food waste savings in terms of value and weight

To support the power of continuous messaging on waste, gamification is also built in – stimulating engagement with instant-win features that make food waste tracking fun. In addition, an ‘Alert’ feature amplifies the impact of tracking, providing electronic notifications of designated waste transactions (e.g. high cost items, such as lobster) to allow for immediate interventions – such as a positive conversation as to how that item might be repurposed, and/or how the ‘waste’ could be avoided in future.

Committing to measurement is the first action of prevention for organisations interested in reducing their pre-consumer food waste. Automated tracking is the basis of effective measurement and it captures the critical food waste data that in turn enables the actionable analysis that promotes operational and behaviour change in high-volume foodservice operations. Data inspires measurable improvement and the overall process leads to a highly engaged workforce.

Post-consumer waste

Beyond the kitchen, Leanpath also helps foodservice organisations go to the next level by addressing post-consumer food waste (i.e. plate waste). A new product (Spark), developed in concert with behavioural science experts, provides another method for utilising food waste data to drive positive behaviour change. The weight associated with consumer food waste transactions is captured with an integrated tracker and the data is then displayed on digital signage where it can be viewed by consumers and kitchen staff. Coupled with rotating, high-impact social messaging, the process brings the site’s food waste data to life in a critical way: it raises awareness among consumers about the level and cost of their food waste, thus nudging them to consider actionable change to reduce their waste. They might take less food when going through the buffet line, for example, with a conscious focus on taking only what they will eat. By educating and inspiring consumers in this way, the tool is useful for front-of-house applications to reduce plate waste and it can be particularly valuable in high-waste, all-you-can-eat buffet operations to encourage responsible decision-making.

IKEA Lyssach developed strategies to achieve a 45% reduction in food waste weight (and a 50% reduction in food waste cost); Food Manager Adrian Gurtner noted that in one year of using Leanpath they reduced half of their food waste.

While the focus is on prevention, by inspiring foodservice workers to optimise food resources, Leanpath’s process facilitates downstream food recovery options, such as donation and composting. As such, users can embrace circularity through a holistic, solutions-focused food waste strategy. Since 2014, Leanpath estimates that its measurement-focused approach has enabled the prevention of more than 16.1m kg of food waste globally, eliminating more than 112,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This translates to a savings of more than 54bn litres of water.

Conclusions

Our food system is essential for our survival. Yet it is far from perfect, and it is one of the greatest drivers of environmental harm. Food is central to many of the Sustainable Development Goals, and successfully cutting food waste in half by 2030 would provide a significant boost to many of them. Humanity is currently consuming more resources annually than the Earth can naturally replenish. Remaining within planetary boundaries requires minimising environmental impact through resource optimisation, and one of the best ways to do that is to sharply reduce global food waste. The world has a challenging UN-led goal to reduce food waste by 50% in the next twelve years, and responsible global foodservice operations can play a major role in achieving that goal. Getting there involves focusing on using automation to measure food waste and to promote waste prevention.

For foodservice organisations, the business case for implementing automated food waste tracking is clear. The related environmental and social benefits are the icing on the cake.

Steven M Finn, Vice President, Food Waste Prevention, Leanpath

8305 SW Creekside Place, Suite A, Beaverton, Oregon, 97008 USA.

email sfinn@leanpath.com

web leanpath.com

Leanpath EMEA HQ LABS Trangle/Leanpath (Office 3.20), Camden Lock Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AB

References

1. Fox. Global Food, Waste Not, Want Not

2. Gunders.  How America Is Losing

3. FAO. Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources. 2013.

4. Lipinski, et al. Creating a Sustainable Food Future (Installment 2).  2013

5. Searchinger, et al. Creating A Sustainable Food Future (Synthesis Report). December 2013.

6. Willett, et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.  January 2019.

7. https://www.drawdown.org/



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