5 Practical Ways Grocery Stores Can Reduce Food Waste


For decades, grocery store fresh departments have been left to deal with the consequences of a highly inefficient supply chain while also being underserved by technology, which is why 70%—or 42.91 million tons—of retail food waste comes from fresh food categories. The consequences of this waste are outsized: over 51 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions and 1.8 million gallons of water go to waste with all that food, too. That’s equivalent to the emissions of 11 million passenger vehicles driven for one year and more than 2.6 million Olympic swimming pools. 

At Afresh, it’s our mission to eliminate food waste and make fresh food accessible to all, so we’ve collected some key best practices that will turn your grocery store's most critical products from sad-ish to radish!

How to reduce food waste in grocery stores

Across the grocery store, fresh teams struggle to prevent food from ending up in landfills. The challenge is pretty clear: perishable foods are, well, perishable. But the store-level solutions for food waste may not be as obvious, especially to new employees or short-staffed teams. 

1. Keep products rotated with the first in, first out method

Merchandising is essential to keeping products moving, building basket size, and creating loyalty-driving customer experiences. Perishable foods should be rotated throughout the day, especially soft fruits and vegetables that bruise easily and go bad quickly. Even the most durable products end up with cosmetic damage. To keep choosy customers from increasing retail-level shrink, store teams should:

  • Restock shelves with older products front and center to keep them moving
  • Rotate highly perishable products often to avoid bruising, wilt, and other damages
  • Store and rotate backroom stock properly, restocking often and keep backstock minimal

2. Use proper space allocation to optimize displays for minimal shrink

Big, beautiful displays aren’t always the best for stores that want to reduce waste. Instead of packing and stacking the produce, associates should create displays that meet customer demand, rather than exceeding it. Here’s what store teams can do to create a visually appealing setup that doesn’t also lead to food waste:

  • Keep displays fresh and fruitful by understanding the maximum item quantity for the display size to avoid product breakdown and temperature-related spoilage
  • Leverage technology that can optimize orders based on display size to optimize on-hand inventory, train team members, and minimize product shrink
  • Review historical item movement data to enable more strategic planograms and merchandising decisions

3. Limit misscans at the front register to avoid data miscalculations

Retailers often forget about this form of shrink, which leads to future food waste. Misscans at the register perpetuate bad data that leads to over-ordering. Here’s what happens when misscans occur:

  • Stores lose out on profits, which means they’re less likely to invest in new technology that promotes efficiency
  • Fresh teams are left scratching their heads wondering why their inventory numbers show there should be more items in stock than are actually on the shelf, leaving employees to spend time searching for missing product and recounting inventory
  • Grocers end up relying on guesswork and intuition due to the data inaccuracies from rigid perpetual inventory and legacy technology that many stores use

4. Avoid evaporation by keeping sprayer systems up to date

The air in produce departments tends to be chilled and constantly circulating, which creates challenges for fresh foods prone to evaporation, causing both literal product shrinkage and material profit shrink. Close adherence to schedules and maintenance for sprayer systems and water lines is a must for automatic and manual sprayers. Here are some of the biggest ways wet racks contribute to food waste:

  • Avoid water evaporation by keeping timers on the proper schedule: auto misters should be set to run every 10 minutes for 10 seconds at a time and manual systems should be used every 20-30 minutes until product is well misted
  • When wet racks aren’t sprayed often or with enough mist, the circulating cold air makes lettuce leaves shrivel, cruciferous veggies go limp, and celery soft and rubbery
  • Regular maintenance is a must to avoid hard water deposits, clogged sprayers, and leaks

5. Follow cold chain best practices for every item in fresh

Cold chain practices differ across categories and items, but they’re critical for limiting shrink. Keeping your cold chain from breaking down preserves shelf life and maintains quality until a customer buys the product. Here are the three primary checkpoints to keep track of:

  • Check the delivery truck temperature, especially during hot summer months when temperature-sensitive products could get too warm. Keep backroom stock in the right place and at the right temperature to avoid shrink before the product even has a chance to go to the sales floor—all too often store teams get busy and forget to place overstock avocados in the cooler to pause ripening
  • Build lighter displays for products that need to stay cold; increase item rotations to avoid physical and shelf life deterioration of a star product like fresh strawberries, which go bad faster once they get above 40 degrees Fahrenheit

When it comes to stopping the cycle of food waste, retailers have the resources and responsibility to do their part. Customers crave sustainability just as much as they crave quality and grocery retailers that put fresh first and promote sustainable practices will win in the end.

Listed above are just a few of the practical ways store teams can help prevent food from ending up in landfills. And across grocery chains and banners, business leaders have the ability to pull a number of levers that help reduce the company’s food waste footprint and, through improvements to shelf life and product quality, reduce the waste their customers create, too. 

Want to run more sustainable fresh departments? Try Afresh.