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Better data, more food, less waste: Spoiler Alert

Posted by Christy Hurlburt on Oct 12, 2017 4:00:00 PM

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Food waste has been a hot button topic the past couple of years. From the EPA’s focus on residential food waste to new documentaries promoted by food tourism giants Anthony Bourdain, we’ve seen and heard a lot about the amount of food wasted in our homes, our restaurants, our agriculture, and our stores.

Our friends over at Spoiler Alert are working to change the way we manage food inventories and promote better overall waste management upstream. Food loss and waste contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and has a big impact on a company’s bottom line. Like us at Enevo, Spoiler Alert uses real-time visibility and data management to show businesses item-level insight into their existing waste reduction and diversion efforts. Spoiler Alert also helps businesses identify new outlets for food donations, discounted sales, and organics recycling opportunities.

We love what they’re doing to continue the conversation around food loss and waste, promote greater efficiencies in inventory operations, and radically shift the way we think about waste reduction and cost savings. We had a chance to catch up with them on why this approach works.

Why food waste? Why now?

We’re currently focused on helping large food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers better manage unsold inventory and reduce the volume of food sent to landfill. We focus upstream where there’s high volume because it’s where we can have the largest opportunity for impact. Perfectly good product often goes unsold as a result of a myriad of uncontrollable circumstances - fluctuation in customer demand, warehouse damages, or even weather. We help that product find a new home whether it be creative upcycling, donation, or other opportunities by connecting businesses to the outlets that unlock value before they end up as trash.

Wow, sounds like what our system needs. What’s the biggest obstacle?

Cheap food. The price tag on our food doesn’t represent its true production cost in terms of the energy, nutrients, labor, etc. It is difficult to convince people that wasting food hurts them if they don’t feel it in their back pocket.

But there’s a tax benefit to donating right?

Yes, and that’s what’s great about connecting businesses to qualified 501(c)3 nonprofits serving food insecure populations. Businesses can be eligible for enhanced federal tax deductions, up to 15% of their taxable income. In addition, nine states offer additional tax incentives for food donations. Donating surplus, unsold or unused inventory can be a greater financial benefit than the potential revenue resulting from a sale at discount. Check out this infographic we made to learn more!

We both share a love of data and technology in taking waste management a step further. What’s your approach?

Technology is providing food distributors with greater ability to understand how much food is going to waste - what type of food it is and why it is happening. Using technology to capture this data informs better decision making on how to capture value from existing unsold inventory (such as through liquidation or donation opportunities) and how to prevent more unsold inventory in the future (such as through better purchasing decisions). Data is absolutely essential for food distributors to effectively manage unsold inventory and reduce wasted food.

So what have you seen in the field working with businesses? Any surprises?

I think the most exciting surprise, especially for our customers, is how quickly businesses can improve their operations once they start tracking and analyzing unsold inventory and their management activities. Opportunities for improvement are quickly visible, and we often see major progress just weeks after deployment. Our customers are definitely excited too! They love to see the rapid improvement in meals donated or pounds of food diverted from the landfill. Check out what Sysco Boston has been doing with us!

Where do you see the future of food waste?

If the momentum of the last five years continues, I can see a future where wasting food carries the same stigma as not recycling. We have a national goal to halve food waste by 2030; major corporations are committing to food waste action; and last year, a national public awareness campaign was launched specifically focused on the scale of food waste in America and strategies to take action. But there is definitely a lot more work that needs to be done, starting with improving datasets on food waste generation, and encouraging public policy that facilitates reductions in wasted food. For a comprehensive analysis of food waste action over the last five years, I highly recommend checking out NRDC’s latest Wasted report.