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The Missing Piece to the Food Waste Solution: Consumers’ Preference for More In-store Technology Could Help Grocers Get Up to Speed on Tracking, Reporting and Reducing Waste

Posted on - July 19, 2018

Food WasteAs humans, we are dependent on food. There’s not much we’d be able to accomplish without the energy source provided by the assortment of carbohydrates, proteins and fats we consume on a daily basis. This necessity seems to echo in a prevalence of food everywhere we go, from the restaurants we visit to our workplaces, schools and homes, but the heaviest volume of food in our cities is typically found at the grocery stores we shop at. While these hubs are prime places to stock up on food, they are also top contributors to the worldwide problem of food waste.

Supermarkets sometimes participate in efforts to lower the estimated 40% of food wasted globally each year through initiatives like food bank donations and handouts to people in need, but a lack of transparency about the rate at which excess food is wasted continues to be a problem. In fact, nine out of ten of the country’s largest grocery companies do not publicly report their total food waste, according to a recent report from the Center for Biological Diversity.

While some grocers don’t prioritize their plans to combat food waste, others have abandoned their “no waste” campaigns completely as they shift focus to other customer needs. Some stores even set cosmetic standards for the products they sell, resulting in food waste before the items even reach the store because of deformities retailers deem as too ugly to sell.

Though the lack of initiatives to help reduce food waste can be the result of varying circumstances, the consequences are the same; financially, households, businesses and farms lose about $218 billion per year. Socially, one-seventh of the world’s population suffers from hunger and environmentally, wildlife is subject to toxicity due to large amount of uneaten food in landfills.

A Digital Solution

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From mobile apps and scanning devices to virtual and augmented reality, shoppers are expecting less of a traditional in-store experience, and many retailers either currently use or plan to implement more technology in their physical stores. As our world becomes increasingly tech-oriented, grocery stores are no exception.

In our recent report, Analogue to Automated: Retail in the Connected Age, the result of a joint study between Displaydata and PlanetRetail, confirmed more than two-thirds of shoppers want digital technology to enhance in-store experiences.

Aligning the push toward a digital store with the goal of food waste reduction, technology solutions such as Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) could be the tool grocery retailers need to increase transparency for customers while providing a more efficient method of controlling food supply.

“The research clearly shows that now is the time for stores to become more digital,” said Displaydata CEO Andrew Dark. “Retailers must embrace technologies that enable them to deploy pricing and promotional strategies with new levels of speed, accuracy and agility.”

The study, which surveyed 1,000 retailers and close to 5,000 consumers across 10 countries, found approximately half of the retailers surveyed are prioritizing improvements in pricing and promotional strategy, enhanced in-store experiences and integration of digital customer engagement.

Beyond the Store

Technology like ESLs, which uses the power of agile pricing to lower prices for items with impending expiration dates, perishable items or overhanging stock, address retailers’ goals and help shoppers stay more informed without worry of a price mishap.

Despite a previously unchallenged assumption that consumers will reject agile pricing, the study found shoppers are surprisingly tolerant of price changes if it saves them money or reduces waste.
According to the study, nearly two-thirds would welcome price changes throughout the day if the product is reaching its sell-by date, while more than half would agree with the reduction if the retailer has surplus stock or matches a competitive offering or promotion.

The results of the study not only support ESLs as a solution to customer satisfaction, but also enable grocers to have clear in-store efforts for food waste reduction-a missing component of many major supermarkets, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Addressing the food waste problem at the grocery store level could lead to a breakthrough, not just for retailers and shoppers, but across society. Reduced food waste, a reduction in the annual amount of money lost, more efficient agricultural systems, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in the protection of endangered species are just the beginning of what could change as technological initiatives enhance stores’ capabilities to track and reduce food waste.