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How Digital Twins Can Help Retailers Give More to Food Banks

The Internet of Things could help to identify products that need to be transferred to a food bank or be put on clearance before they expire.
By Neil Sequeira
Jan 13, 2019

A large portion of the food we waste is in perfectly good condition for human consumption, especially considering that there are a large number of food-insecure people throughout the world. Food wastage occurs at all levels of the supply chain, from farm to distributors to consumers. Food that would otherwise end up in a landfill, contributing to greenhouse gases, can be turned into a resource, however, by redistributing it to various channels in order to engage people in need.

Since a considerable amount of this wastage occurs at the retail level, due either to overstocking or to imposed quality standards, retailers are in a powerful position to lead the change and contribute massively to a reduction in global food wastage, as well as hunger. According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a U.K.-based organization working toward a circular economy, 1.9 million tonnes (2.09 million tons) of food are wasted annually in the United Kingdom through the grocery supply chain, 56 percent of which is avoidable. In fact, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals 12.3 program aims to halve the per-capita food wastage occurring at the retail and consumer levels, as well at all points throughout the production and supply chain, by 2030.

So what channels are available to retailers and distributors to redistribute unused food items? When considering channels to redistribute such food items, food banks come to mind first. There are plenty of organizations that rely on donations from department stores and citizens to provide free meals to the food-insecure. According to one such organization, FareShare, there is enough surplus food in the United Kingdom to provide 800 million meals a year.

Several governments are taking steps to ensure that distributors, like supermarkets, play an inclusive role in a circular economy in order to create value out of waste. In 2016, the French parliament unanimously passed a bill to make it mandatory for any supermarket measuring more than 400 square metres (4,305 square feet) to sign an agreement with a local organization that redistributes unused food in an attempt to fight unnecessary food wastage.

A wide array of mobile apps are coming up, prising open even more ways for the reuse of discarded food. One such example, Neighbourly, is working toward connecting charities to potential food donors, such as retailers, supermarkets and other distributors. Approved Food, an online retailer, targets manufacturers for food products that are past their best-before dates, then sells them at discounted fares. Not only are they reusing products that other retailers or supermarkets would have shrugged off, but they also provide an economically viable option for manufacturers to dispose of such products.

Retailers could, however, be doing much more to ensure their unused food reaches food banks. The demand for surplus food far outstrips supply at the moment.

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