Reducing food waste can put money in your pocket, project shows

Guelph – Reducing food waste is not just the right thing to do; it’s also a way to improve business efficiency and profitability.

That’s the outcome of a food waste reduction project spearheaded by the Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA) with funding provided by Growing Forward 2.

OPMA teamed up with Value Chain Management International (VCMI) to develop a workbook, prepare several case studies, and roll out a series of workshops to help OPMA members wrap their heads around how they can reduce waste in their businesses while making more money in the process.

“This is to identify opportunities for improvement in the value chain; if you improve process, you automatically reduce waste in areas like labour, energy, product, packaging and transportation,” project lead Martin Gooch told participants in the Agricultural Adaptation Council’s summer tour on June 14. “This will position the Ontario produce industry as a leader in reducing food waste, but it’s also a business opportunity for the entire value chain.”

The first Ontario industry case study was recently released, with three more nearing completion. The case study with a progressive Ontario potato supplier, EarthFresh Foods, clearly shows the business opportunity in addressing food waste: a 29 per cent increase in grade-out of potatoes results in a 74 per cent increase in producer margin.

Most of the produce loss can be directly attributed to production practices, storage and handling, but addressing the problem requires a slight shift in thinking for farmers.

“Farmers often look at what their production per acre is, but don’t connect that with how much is actually being marketed and that’s where they are paid,” he said. “If you can prevent that 29 per cent loss of product, that’s an overall $17,000 increase in return on a single trailer load of potatoes. Businesses also benefit from incurring lower costs.”

To date, close to 100 people have participated in the waste reduction workshops developed by VCMI. The accompanying workbook uses a whole value chain perspective, and was designed to be an easy to use tool for businesses small and large with 10 easy steps to follow.

“You don’t need to have a PhD in math or be a statistical genius to improve your business,” Gooch said. “It’s about identifying where the opportunities are, what the causes are, and how do we address those causes in a constructive way.”

Overall, participants come away from the workshop with solutions they can use to improve performance in their businesses and no longer simply accept waste and “shrink” as part of doing business. Media interest in the initiative has been strong with global coverage, and other sectors, like meat processing, are making inquiries about applicability of the program to their industries.

More information is available at www.theopma.ca.

This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.