Deck the Aisles: Marketing vs. Food Waste

The holidays are a time to share memories, thoughts, and food. This time of year represents a celebration that brings nations, culture, and views together while sitting around a dining room table sharing it all with family and friends. Unfortunately, the increase of family feasts lead to food waste. During this season, supermarkets are one of many entities that increase marketing strategies as a way to meet consumers’ demands. Aisles are filled with banners and handouts, tastings and coupons are being distributed, and the consumers’ eye is drawn to specials and their favorite holiday goodies. From turkey to pies and ham, the holiday season is a mecca for marketers. While it may seem overwhelming at times, it is the result of consumers’ demands, supermarkets increase of marketing initiatives, and the constant strides for sales. However, this also means an increase in inventory. This in turn leads to a surplus that inevitably leads to disposal. The end product is increasing amounts of food waste, The Guardian conducted a study which concluded that Americans alone waste up to $160 billion worth of food a year.

The epidemic represented by food waste is nothing new, but it has also become a problem hard to ignore by the public and distributors. According to The US Department of Agriculture, in the US alone 10% of the available food supply is wasted at the retail level. This is fed by the increasing number of grocery stores nationwide, overstocked shelves, as well as the increase in marketing initiatives during the holiday season. From better brand aesthetic to new advertisements and billboards, food companies are in a constant race to meet unrealistic consumers’ expectations. Fruits and vegetables must look pristine at all times, any bruising or spots are deemed not fit for sale. No surprise, this leads to countless amounts of edible food products being thrown away straight from the grocery shelves each year.

The nature of the grocery business stresses the importance of product variety. Food companies and grocery stores want to offer their customers a variety of options, in order to reduce the likelihood of them purchasing products from competitors. In turn by providing more variety, grocery stores induce the psychology of the consumers by creating the illusion of food abundance. However, having a wide range of options constantly contributes to the disposal of unsold food items. Labels like “sell-by” or “best-by” also add to massive amounts of food disposal, these terminologies mislead consumers into believing the food is inedible after a certain date. “Best-by” and “sell-by” labels actually have no basis in science, they are the manufacturer’s best guess for when the product is likely to be the freshest. Furthermore, there are no federal standards for expiration dates, except for baby formula.

It is highly unlikely that the grocery store industry will drastically change the way it operates from one day to another. However, some supermarkets have taken the initiative to reduce food waste and their carbon footprint. Trader Joe’s has implemented a food donation program- where they donate food that is not fit to sell but safe for consumption. These items are given to local food banks and homeless shelters. Earlier this year Whole Foods opened their first “green store”,which will also send leftover food to food banks while other food scraps will be composted to reduce their carbon footprint. The main goal of this store is to produce zero waste, this could set the parameters for how grocery stores operate in the future.

The problem of food waste relies on how grocery stores operate and how consumers sometimes subconsciously buy in surplus as a result of overwhelming advertisements and availability. Marketing strategies in the food industry need to re-iterate to individuals the power of reuse, recycle, and reduce. Which sometimes can be misleading considering the nature of marketing- increase sales. Food companies need to remember the corporate social responsibility they have to communities, it is imperative for them to implement sustainable practices that will reduce food waste. If marketing strategies are executed along with sustainable practices, food waste in America will be reduced and companies will continue to diminish costs and increase efficiency.


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