OPS keynote addresses 63 million tons of food waste

OPS keynote addresses 63 million tons of food waste

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OPS keynote addresses 63 million tons of food waste

On average, a U.S. grocery store’s net monthly profits are $40,000. This figure happens to match the estimated value of monthly food waste losses per store, notes Ryan Begin, the CEO and co-founder, Divert, Inc., based in West Concord, MA.

Begin is one of two keynote luncheon speakers on July 12 at the Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, CA. His presentation is titled: “Protecting the Value of Food: Learning to Value Food at All Stages of Its Lifecycle—from Seed to Wasted Food to Renewable Energy.”

Begin recently spoke with FreshFruitPortal.com to preview his Monterey discussion.

Ryan Begin.

Founded in 2007, Divert works with more than 5,400 retail stores across the U.S., helping them reach their sustainability goals. Working with major retailers across the U.S. including Kroger, Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons, and Target, Divert has enabled individual stores to decrease wasted food and reduce shrink while having a positive impact on the retailer’s bottom line. 

Divert is committed to reducing wasted food by bringing together the industry, driving awareness, and deploying solutions to prevent unnecessary waste – whether it’s in consumers’ kitchens or on the grocery store shelf, Begin notes in a recent release.

He tells FreshFruitPortal.com that fresh produce waste is a very significant part of retail food waste but Divert also helps clients handle any wasted food and important time-stamped packaging through its ten processing plants located throughout the country. 

Divert directly helps retailers with food salvage or reprocessing but also consults with retailers to make all efforts to sell food and move it out the front door. 

Currently, one third of all food produced in the world is wasted. Divert notes if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. 

Begin foresees his upcoming keynote presentation as “a really fascinating forum because the majority of the audience is at the beginning of the supply chain. And I look at us as the end of the supply chain. So, if there is food that is not being consumed, we see it more than anybody in the country. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to have that conversation with everybody in the audience. I am looking forward to that.”

Currently, the United States annually wastes 63 million tons of food. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 encourages the target of a 50% food waste reduction by at least 2030. Divert clients Kroger and Ahold have agreed to an effort to reduce their food waste by half. 

“If you were to pull somebody into a room from one of those organizations, they would tell you they don’t really know how to get there. But they have all the incentive to get there because of the financials on the 63 million tons of wasted food. It’s not really the landfill cost, it’s the lost revenue. It’s the $408 billion of value that that food represents. Nobody has been more incentivized than retailers to avoid food waste. If you could eliminate all wasted food, you could effectively double the net profit.” Begin observes, there is no other value proposition in retail than this opportunity to boost profits. “The incentive is there. You’re seeing more discussions at the board level than what has been happening in the prior ten years.”

Related articles: Mission Produce UK’s new ripening control technology combats food waste

Begin describes Divert as “an overnight success that was 16 years in the making. There have been some frustrations along the way where we were piloting a cold supply chain technology that we had built.”

But to build Divert, Begin went back to producers and studied food handling and the cold supply chain. “Once the product is grown the only thing you can control is the time and temperature in that entire food chain.”

Divert “found most of the issues were within retail, once the food hits the distribution center and it’s being loaded out. Produce was being loaded on the warm dock. Trailers were not at the temperatures they ought to be or were breaking down. Food was arriving at the grocery store sitting on the back dock for four hours. Nobody is actually measuring the temperature of the food. Your produce cooler could be at the perfect temperature, but if the food is sitting just outside the door, it doesn’t matter what the cooler temperature is.”

Divert developed and shared best practices with retailers. Technology wasn’t the only answer. Retailers saw the need to get back to basics and retrain at the store level. Marking down food prices prior to product expiration is an important part of training. “I do think there is slow adoption in the retail space. This study was in 2022 and those things are still slowly catching on.”

Begin is an engineer. He worked for a major defense contractor, which he found to be restrictive against creative thinking. He then invested in “solving problems where no one else wants to be, like jumping into dumpsters and understanding this problem. That’s where we focus and where we thrive. And then the more you dig into it the more you recognize that this is a very untapped, unrecognized opportunity.”

At Divert, building a profitable business is a requisite. “If you’re not making money, then it’s not sustainable.” If not profitable, an endeavor to reduce food waste is “living on subsidies and that’s a really terrible place to exist; at the whims of the government.”

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