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Retail Foodservice

Are You Going to Use All of That? The Upside of Upcycling Food in Your Operation

Industry steps up efforts to reduce food waste

Waste not, want not.

That adage holds true across many spectrums of life and business. Over the past couple of years, the waste-not-want-not spotlight has shone on food waste, which is estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be between 30-40% of the nation’s food supply.

The USDA has called for an aggressive 50% reduction in food waste by 2030, pledging to work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a variety of public and private organizations to lower food waste for the dual purposes of conservation and food security. The grocery and foodservice industries have stepped up their own roles: the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and National Restaurant Association have teamed up with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance in an initiative designed to reduce food waste across the respective sectors.

Efforts by industry groups, manufacturers and grocers continue as the new year begins, including ways to repurpose or “upcycle” foods whenever possible. In its trend forecast for 2018, the Specialty Food Association’s (SPA’s) Trendspotter Panel called out the trend of upcycling products, as more consumers learn about food waste and take steps to prevent it. The panel noted: “We're already seeing pressed juice made from imperfect fruit, chips made from fruit pulp, and snack bars made from spent grain from the beer-making process. Expect more to hit the market in the coming year.”

Given the crossover of products within a store, foodservice at retail presents a significant opportunity for grocers to upcycle foods. That imperfect fruit, for instance, can be used in the in-store juice or smoothie bar. The fresh perimeter and perishables departments offer a plethora of products that can be utilized in the hot food bar, prepared food section of the deli, cafe/grocerant or in-store coffee or juice bar.

Whole Foods is delving into this movement with the company’s recent announcement that its salad bars will incorporate new composted and build-your-own salad recipes with a focus on root-to-stem food preparation. According to the Whole Foods’ trend prediction report for 2018, root-to-stem food preparation will be a focal point as more people discover that utilizing the entire fruit or vegetable cuts down on food waste.

Industry expert and Winsight Grocery Business partner/contributor Phil Lempert says that upcycling in various forms has been part and parcel of foodservice operations for years. “Let’s remember that this is exactly what chefs do. Whether it’s in the basic diner or in the fanciest five-star restaurants, chefs pride themselves on never wasting anything and creating fabulous dishes from what you and I would toss at home,” he says.

According to Lempert, while upcycling isn’t mainstream just yet in foodservice operations within grocery stores, those retailers who hire trained chefs are ahead of the curve. “Most of the stores do not have chefs running their in-store operations. There are exceptions like Hy-Vee and Mariano's, who do employ skilled culinarians who have the instinct and the talent to upcycle and make the foods exciting and interesting enough for shoppers to buy them,” he says.

One barrier to overcome within foodservice at retail is recognizing and addressing quality and safety issues. “One big reason is food safety and most supermarkets are concerned that if they upcycle it may cause issues,” Lempert says.

Once stores determine how properly and effectively upcycle foods for their foodservice offerings, this may become a regular practice, given younger consumers’ interest in combatting food waste and their expectations of stores and restaurants they patronize. “Millennials and Gen Z—the two most food-obsessed generations ever—cook more for themselves expect to see a plethora of YouTube vides, and maybe shows on The Food Network, that are focused on this trend as more people are concerned about food waste,” Lempert says.

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