A few weeks ago, Farm Boy blew everyone away by unveiling their experiment in closing the loop on food waste.
Teaming with Food Cycle Science (the inventors of FoodCycler), Farm Boy implemented a first-of-its-kind commercial “circular economy” in the chain’s inaugural outlet based out of Cornwall, ON.
As we all know, grocery stores are a big name in the world of food waste. Every year, supermarket chains generate 43 billion pounds of methane-emitting waste and make up 11% of the overall food waste pie chart.
In response to these statistics and as a trial experiment, Farm Boy implemented a commercial-sized FoodCycler, a food waste recycling machine, which transforms food waste into a nutrient-dense, quick-release fertilizer.
Not only have they almost completely eliminated all food waste generated by their store, but they have added the by-product made by the FoodCycler as an item on their shelves.
Why Did Farm Boy Take the Plunge Into Commercial Food Recycling?
Dollars n’ Sense
Diverting food waste isn’t just a lovely thing to do for the earth. Time and time again, reducing food waste has been proven to offer retailers actual business value.
Food waste accounts for losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars to grocery store chains every year. The produce that sits on supermarket shelves represents a continuous and seemingly irreversible drip of lost profits: a whopping 50% of all produce will be thrown away while still edible.
Farm Boy is one of the largest retailers of organic and “healthy eating” produce and products. The Farm Boy brand is renowned for simple and high-quality foods that not only taste delicious but are genuinely good for your health.
As a result of this business model, you may have noticed that fresh produce and perishable products make up the majority of the store’s offering - to the benefit of consumers’ health.
However, this model also demonstrates why tossing up to 50% of their inventory simply does not make any business sense.
So, rather than tossing out all that produce at no added benefit to the company - why not turn it into something equally profitable?
In this sense, the investment into a food recycler is increasing the odds of making a profit on one product - either as a food item or as a fertilizer once that food item is no longer profitable as a food item. And the beauty of this system?
Even if a perishable item is not sold, it can become a non-perishable item that can be.
Low-Cost Product Launch
Adding a new product to a retailer’s shelves is never as simple as just adding it to inventory - far from it.
Thousands upon thousands of dollars are spent prior to any one product appearing on the supermarket floor, from marketing to testing, and all the way to packaging.
Whether the product falls under the “house brand”, or shelving has been rented by a third-party retailer, the profit margins on new products are not nearly as impressive as those made by recognizable, branded products.
While a diversity of product, in theory, is attractive to consumers and retailers alike, product range is falling every year due to price gouging between grocery stores and increasing supermarket competition.
Adding new products to shelves is no simple endeavor - though it is absolutely desirable. After all, as with anything, variety is the spice of life.
So, how does food recycling come into the picture?
By transforming existing product which no longer provides business value, into a secondary product at no added cost and which can also be sold to consumers at a comparable price point, Farm Boy is really capitalizing on two otherwise cost-prohibitive elements of supermarket retailing.
Two birds with one stone? Try two sales, one potato.
A Supermarket Legend-In-the-Making
Food waste is a hot topic right now and is only becoming more so as consumers wise up to the negative effects that our habits have on our environment. Call To Actions like the one you see below are swarming social media feeds, a small symptom of a larger shift in consumer habits.
By capitalizing on a growing trend in consumer habits and mainstream media, Farm Boy has ensured that it is not only staying on-trend but that it will stand as the poster-(Farm)Boy for grocery store food waste diversion in Canada.
Sure, it’s one of a few now. But in ten years, when the industry finally wises up to the financial and ecological benefits of diverting waste, it will still have been one of the first to take the plunge. And they should be very proud of that.
Environmental Responsibility & Stewardship
We mentioned before: grocery stores contribute 11% of wasted food to international levels. While consumers account for 47% of that pie chart, grocery stores are still no shrinking violet in the world of waste - especially considering that supermarket waste is usually extremely avoidable and often based on cosmetic deficiency (not a deficiency in nutrients).
Yes, we consumers aren’t so hot. We’re, generally speaking, pretty terrible shoppers: we’re cheap, we overbuy and we select only the most attractive produce, though aesthetic does not remotely represent nutritional value (which is the point of food, no?).
But it’s grocery stores that get a bad rap for prioritizing “pretty food” over “ugly food.” While our consumer habits are slowly shifting to accept food across the “attractiveness spectrum,” this is not happening fast enough to make a big difference in how supermarkets operate to please the shopper.
Remember: supermarkets are businesses, and businesses are geared to make a profit. We can’t just put it all on them. If it was profitable to sell the ugliest veggies in the world, I assure you, they would do it.
But I digress.
By transforming waste into a garden-ready supplement, not only is Farm Boy making a profit on a waste item, they are performing an incredible deed for the environment.
Food waste that decomposes anaerobically generates methane, a gas 20-30 times more insulative of atmospheric heat than the CO2 from our cars. In layman’s terms: methane is a more potent contributor to global warming because it insulates the heat generated on earth more than CO2.
By decomposing food waste through aerobic digestion with a food recycler, Farm Boy has almost completely eliminated methane-emitting materials from their daily workspace. Because of their FoodCycler, zero of their wasted food is being sent to landfills, where it would otherwise break down anaerobically and emit considerable amounts of methane.
Farm Boy’s environmental stewardship goes even further: not only are they greatly reducing (if not completely eliminating) their methane contributions, the by-product generated by the FoodCycler is a nutrient-dense fertilizer, which can be used to supplement local gardens.
Why is this remarkable? Well, in case you haven’t heard, gardens are good for the environment, and absolutely great for the local ecosystem (including benefits to human animals as well).
Good on you, Farm Boy.
Room To Improve?
As always, we can all do more for our environment and our society. Social and ecological improvement is not a one-stop-shop by any means: you don’t get to plant a single tree and then turn around and burn your garbage for the next ten years, for example.
The FoodCycler is a massive, groundbreaking step in the right direction for Farm Boy, and a definite nudge to other FB branches to follow suit. However, there is always more to be done. And we have high hopes for this particular supermarket chain.
Farm Boy is definitely getting a handle on its food waste, and perhaps this will spike an upward spiral: the next elimination might be the throwaway plastic produce bags, in favor of reusable mesh bags. Perhaps it will be cashiers bagging groceries with paper bags instead of plastic, or the use of compostable packaging for meats and dairy, rather than styrofoam and saran-wrap.
We know, it’s a tall order. But if anyone can do it, Farm Boy can. They’ve already proven the point! What’s more, they’ve proven that they can only gain from going green.
If you’re curious about food waste diversion, and you’d like to keep your options open, there are many ways to divert waste from the landfill.
While the most obviously profitable from a business standpoint is to transform waste into a saleable, non-emitting by-product with a food recycler, there are certainly other, equally ecologically-conscious methods.
Options include mass-scale compost systems, in which supermarket food waste can be gathered in a large pile or vat and regularly aerated (similar to the FoodCycler, only using the slow, natural process of decomposition.
While this is the more natural option and requires only sunlight, aeration, and a large enough container, it is also time-consuming, energy-intensive and can attract unwanted pests (raccoons, possums, rodents, and seagulls).
Further, it is an unreliable form of product generation, as the process takes a very long time and might amount to varying levels of end-product, which can leave your customers feeling dissatisfied.
Further, this process is not viable for meat, dairy, or processed food wastes, and would not be easy to run in the winter.
A third option would be to donate leftover food to a local soup kitchen. However, the roadblocks here would stem from the municipal red tape surrounding the donation of perishable food items. There’s a reason food donations only consist of canned and boxed non-perishables: no hoops to jump through, and no legalese to read over!
Charitable donations of food is not an impossible feat, however. In Canada, there are food donation rules and laws in which a manufacturer or retailer which donates to an intermediary or individual (food bank or hungry person) is protected from liability. However, this does not include if the food is rotten, badly preserved, or otherwise not fit for consumption (understandably).
Food donations are an honorable venture, and we fully believe that a certain amount of philanthropy and corporate generosity has a place in a brighter, more sustainable future.
However, at the moment, it can lead to some very sticky legal situations if the line is not very carefully towed. The last thing a food-retailer wants to deal with is a lawsuit focussed on death or illness caused by contaminated produce.
What Can Retailers Take from This?
It pays to divert waste. Literally.
Listening to your customer base is never the wrong thing
“Going Green” rarely equates to losing “green”
Modern technology has an answer for just about everything
There are many options for diverting commercial levels of waste, however the most profitable and least complicated by far is recycling waste into a saleable fertilizer with a food recycler
Sending waste to landfills is no longer a profitable or sustainable business practice
Consumer habits play a role in reducing supermarket-generated waste, but grocery stores do not have to wait for the tides to turn completely. In fact, it’s more profitable (not to mention ethical) to get a jump on waste-diversion sooner rather than later
Are you a retailer or manufacturer of food? Learn about how an electric food recycler can help you eliminate waste, reduce profit-loss, and increase sales.