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Sample this: About 870 million people globally are undernourished, while almost 2.5 billion tonnes of food produced annually goes unconsumed. And the financial cost? A whopping $1 trillion. In fact, growing more food isn’t necessary to end world hunger; reducing just 50% of food loss or waste could end it. Clearly, the huge quantity of food we waste sits uneasily with the millions of people who go hungry every day.

Food waste is everyone’s problem. Therefore, it’s time to reflect, rethink and reconsider why this has assumed gigantic proportions, and discuss potential ways to address it. While proposed solutions have usually been in the economic and political realm, let’s see what organizations can do to stop food wastage; specifically, how we can use technology to prevent, reclaim and manage it.

Engage consumers and employees in managing food waste: On the consumer side, organizations need to bolster awareness-related initiatives. If programmes are already in place, redouble efforts to give the issue visibility, and if not, start them. For instance, Unilever’s Use-Up Day campaign aims to cut food waste by one-third by encouraging consumers to use ingredients they already have at least once a week.

Ensuring comprehensible labelling is also important. Recent research highlights that only 35% of consumers say they fully understand the difference between terms such as “best before", “consume by" and “expiry date" seen on date labels.

Companies should also use information technology to promote waste avoidance among consumers. For example, the ‘Internet of Groceries’ has the potential to connect organizations and consumers from the very moment a product is picked up at a supermarket, through its storage and cooking, all the way up to its disposal, or ideally the absence thereof. We must use data to educate people and create actionable awareness, and also support consumer efforts to cook with what’s in the fridge sustainably.

For employees, a focus on incentivizing proactive behaviour is critical to sensitize them on curtailing food waste.

Collaborate across the entire industry value chain: Food waste prevention solutions stem from collaboration and innovation. Today, organizations are not paying enough attention to influence the entire food chain to reduce waste. For instance, demand-driven production isn’t trickling down the entire food chain. Procurement agents and supply chains have very different performance goals. A retailer’s aims need to include having the lowest possible waste throughout the supply chain. In a high-demand industry like food, the focus should be on implementing and scaling up tech solutions that generate maximum impact—such as demand forecasting, temperature monitoring, inventory management, geographic information system (GIS) mapping, and remote sensing. Similarly, building visible, agile and intelligent supply chains enables transparency and strengthens collaboration and data exchange with value-chain partners. For instance, using Internet-of-Things (IoT) solutions in cold chains can help organizations harness data-driven insights, enhance traceability and monitor the quality of perishables. Boosting local supply chains also leads to reduced spoilage and waste, quicker turnaround times, a smaller carbon footprint and lower cost of transportation. Post covid, regionalizing and localizing the supplier base has become a priority for many large organizations. Walmart, for instance, uses blockchain technologies to speed up trace-back (from 7 days to 2 seconds), improve food safety and reduce waste.

Monitor and report food waste-related benchmarks: What gets measured gets managed. Organizations need to set food waste reduction goals, establish relevant metrics, track and report progress against them. With the right technology solutions, companies can assess and track waste. This will also help in reporting waste volumes and attaching a dollar value to it.

Companies must better align organizational resources as they can link prevention of food losses with cost improvements, revenue growth or brand enhancement. For instance, Sodexo has implemented a data-driven food-waste prevention programme that has already cut the organization’s food wastage by around half.

Prevention as the path ahead: Industry research reveals that on average, the cost associated with food waste is around 5.6% of total sales for organizations. Apart from the financial implications, food waste is a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, generating 8-10% of global emissions.

Resources deployed to produce, process, transport and dispose off food likewise generate a huge amount of waste and expense. Coupled with raging food-price inflation and persistently high energy prices, food loss and waste constitute one of the most urgent and daunting challenges in society.

Organizations at every stage of the food value chain need to manage waste better. Recent technological leaps in IoT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, intelligent supply chains, etc, can play a fundamental role. Similarly, technology can also help in tracking and assessing food waste and enabling action at the right time, while enlisting consumers for the task of waste reduction.

Everyone is part of the food-waste problem and everyone could be part of the solution. Preventing food waste, after all, is simply the right thing to do.

Sandeep Bhatia is country head, Capgemini Invent, India

 

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