People getting food at Thanksgiving

Mind the Gap: Closing the Hunger Gap in a World of Food Waste

It’s that time of year again. As we’ve entered the season of thanks and giving back, it creates a moment of pause of what is it that we are truly appreciative for, and how can we spread more cheer amongst those around us.  Growing up in an Italian household, food is how we show love, support, and care.  It’s part of the culture of my family that when someone is sad or upset, the answer is to feed them.  Visitors coming over? Always have food to welcome them.  Additionally, it’s always been a culture in my family that if you don’t have leftovers, you didn’t make enough because someone might have left hungry.  Some of this culture perpetuates itself past family dinners.  According to the USDA, the average American family wastes $1,500 of food per year.

Every day, 795 million people around the world suffer from hunger according to the Food Aid Foundation.  At the same time, 40% of produce grown never gets picked because it’s not “pretty enough” for most grocers, and only a fraction of that gets scooped up in end of season gleaning according to Walter Robb, former Co-CEO of Whole Foods.  Defects that stop this food from making it into grocery stores are blemishes, bruises, or “abnormal shape or size.”  In other words – 40% of produce is left in the fields while 10% of the world’s population goes hungry.

In order to combat food waste and unlock the potential to solve some of the pressures of hunger around the world, as well as in our own back yard, various businesses have popped up or joined together to try to make a difference.  In Europe, we’re seeing retailers mark down produce that’s near the end of its peak freshness window to help it sell and be eaten.  In the US, we’re seeing “peculiar produce” markets pop up both within larger grocers as well as by mail order.  Additionally, scientific advancements such as produce lipids are being integrated into spray-on films that extend the life of produce are offering the shelf life of some produce to nearly double.

By extending the shelf life of produce, as well as creating a market to sell and distribute previously discarded produce, food waste is being reduced.  Also, technological innovations for scheduling delivery and pickup windows, both at retailers as well as food banks, allow for supply chains to help optimize distribution of food, and preserve dignity and time for those who wait in the long lines for assistance.

In supply chain, we often talk about getting the right product to the right place at the right time.  For more lean systems, we focus on just-in-time inventory.  For more risk averse organizations, safety stock intermediates that JIT cycle.  But what if we shifted our paradigm?  What if not only did supply chains forecast the correct inventory to make and distribute, but also offer alternatives for excess inventory that was created in your bullwhip, or just wasn’t “up to spec”?  In the food world, there’s a lot of variability in farmed produce goods that is simply out of your hands and up to mother nature.  Some years, the yields of the field are barely enough because of draught or a late spring.  Other years, the fields are so bountiful that there isn’t enough labor or automation to pick the fields before the frost kicks in.

This unpredictability leaves a lot of opportunity on the table (quite literally) for solving one of the world’s largest challenges – food insecurity.  According to Feeding America, 37 million Americans are food insecure.  According to Kroger, 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry.  At JDA, we talk about “Supply Chains Save the World”.  It’s not just about fuel consumption and environmental factors – supply chains get to the very core of human needs – getting the right thing (food) to the right place (food insecure homes).  As we’ve dedicated our organization to this mission of “saving the world” – we’ve taken a step back to recognize and acknowledge the many ways we can contribute and bring this mission to fruition.

BlockchainWe’ve seen current customers focusing on accuracy in their production planning and inventory optimization to reduce excess inventory and unnecessary spoilage.  There have been conversations and collaboration between JDA associates, customers, and partners to discuss the next generation of sustainability and what it means for the broader supply chain.  Our CEO Girish Rishi has stepped up to the plate and signed on to the Board of Directors for Feeding America, and if that doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the organization, I’m not sure what will.  It’s an exciting and philanthropic time to be at JDA.

While clearly there’s still a long way to go connecting the food waste opportunity to the direct food insecure populations of the world, there are some exciting initiatives under way between the EPA, FDA, USDA, and a bi-partisan committee in Congress.  As progress continues, supply chains will continue to be the lynch pin that help close this gap and become mission critical to continued progress.  We as supply chain practitioners will need to continue to empower farmers, wholesalers, retailers, and food recovery organizations to close the gap between food and people.  While I’m excited to participate in this initiative both as an individual, as well as JDA associate, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of untouched opportunity to help those around us, and we’re just getting started.

 

** Statistics given were presented during ReFed’s 2019 Food Waste Summit in San Francisco

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