Getting Grocery Rite

This week, while at the Sustainable Foods Summit in San Francisco, I learned more about what the largest supermarket chains and food manufacturers are doing to reduce food waste through the FMI/GMA Food Waste Reduction Alliance. As you can see from this page and their slides (download), the initiative is encouraging and ongoing.

On the other end of the spectrum, a couple of smaller markets are providing inspiration through their different models. I had the chance to visit Bi-Rite Market, a Mission  mainstay that is as innovative as it is ingrained in the neighborhood.

Bi-Rite is a nimble operation, able to repurpose many of their blemished or approaching expiration goods into prepared foods. Bruised fruit goes across the street to their bakery/ice cream shop. Unsellable veggies and meat are incorporated in the in-store meals. The same goes for when the store might overorder or have a glut of any perishable product.

Feeding employees in the staff break room is another way Bi-Rite repurposes its unsellable products. These would be some of the day old baked goods and fruit that dropped on the floor, etc. And finally, the store has found a way to close the loop by using kitchen scraps, old bread and expiring milk to feed the hogs on the store’s Sonoma County farm. Pork from the farm is then sold (and also cooked) at Bi-Rite.

Meanwhile, in Austin, site of the Year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery, a 6-month-old store called in.gredients has taken the dramatic step of being packaging free. And hidden in a recent blog post on food waste, they announced that in their first half year, they sent zero pounds of food waste to the landfill by reusing, composting and recycling that food.

While the smaller operators are doing amazing work, all three models are laudable. It’s much harder to steer massive operations (and ones with shareholders, etc.) toward sustainability. While change in the mainstream supermarket industry will come slower, it has nearly limitless potential reach. So here’s to change in any way, shape or form!

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