Economy

Salvage Grocery Stores Look To Fight Food Waste, At A Profit

Not your (hippy) Grandma's dumpster diving...

Members of the French anti-food waste group, Nous.
Members of the French anti-food waste group, Nous.
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

A bruised piece of fruit, a can of soup just past its best-by-date or even an outdated brand logo: In the past, these "less than perfect" items would have ended up in the trash, contributing to the estimated one-third of food that is lost or wasted each year. Industrialized countries produce about $680 billion in food waste annually, and it's also becoming a significant problem in developing economies. But around the world, so-called salvage grocery stores are popping up to not only decrease the foodstuff we throw out, but provide affordable products and other community support through social programs.

Food waste sitting in a blue bin — Photo: Nick Saltmarsh, Creative Commons User

Saving at scale: While many of these are individual local initiatives, Nous, an anti-waste company in France, is spreading its mission throughout the country. With 17 stores, Nous aims to address this issue from the source, given that 55% of food waste in France comes from producers (the rest is in stores and homes).

  • Since opening its first shop in Brittany (France's largest food-producing region) in 2018, Nous has grown to 150 employees working with upwards of 700 suppliers.

  • They partner with a range of companies, from small farmers to large grocery store brands like Carrefour and Franprix, selling groceries ranging from produce to dairy products to meats as well as hygiene and personal care items.

  • The goal is to have 50 stores by 2024, with managers having a financial stake in the business.

Food waste litters the ground next to a trash can — Photo: ​@paul_schellekens Unsplash User

A risky business model: As Le Monde reports, Nous buys goods at close-to-production cost and sells to consumers at a discounted rate: about 20-25% less than at a traditional store. But given the unpredictable nature of what food waste companies produce, it's often a gamble of what will line the shelves.

  • Still, Nous boasts that every month in each store, 35 tons of products are saved from the trash. And it's a profitable enterprise, with two million euros in sales per month.

  • Nous has also just launched its own private label, beginning with 15 products with an expansion to 50 by September, whether it be slightly broken cookies or cheeses that don't meet weight requirements. But what does Nous do with its own food waste? In addition to donating to associations, Nous also plans to open restaurants next to its stores, where chefs whip up dishes with unsold items.

Wasteless in Europe and North America: Other companies and projects around the world are finding commercially viable ways to reduce food waste:

  • In Germany, SurPlus is Berlins' first salvage grocery store, selling products in person and online through subscription boxes. Since 2017, SurPlus, which works with 700 partners, has saved over 2,500 tons of food through its Tafel-First (Table-First) principle. SurPlus also has a social initiative, donating 20% of its products to nonprofit organizations.

  • Starting in 2016, the Real Junk Food Project made history in the United Kingdom through opening its first "pay-as-you-feel" food waste grocery store. Located in Pudsey, this warehouse sells perishable and nonperishable items, especially to those who might not be able to afford full-priced groceries. The organization began in 2013 with a "pay-as-you-feel" cafe and also has an initiative providing food to students.

  • Amish communities in the United States are behind many of the country's salvage grocery stores, known as "bent ‘n" dent" shops that are both one-off and chain companies. Pallets of items are bought and sold, often at least 50% less than their retail price, to fellow Pennsylvania Dutch and all bargain-seekers.

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