Amy Westervelt


Will Grocery Stores Go the Way of Video Stores?

Requiring shoppers to go to overstocked stores bakes waste into the U.S. food system. Could grocery stores migrate online the way video stores have?

Think about the last time you went into a grocery store and saw an empty table or shelf. Tough, right? That's because it virtually never happens in this country. American shoppers have become accustomed to finding whatever food item they want when they go to the grocery store—and plenty of it, too. That expectation, which U.S. shoppers have only really had for the last few decades, plays a big role in the country's growing food waste problem. According to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40 percent of fresh food produced in the United States is wasted every year. That's more than 20 pounds of food wasted per person per month, all year long. Even worse? The majority of that food ends up not in food banks but in landfills, where it contributes 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions.

Of course, that's not all to do with the fact that stores overstock shelves—and wind up throwing rotted food away—in order to meet shopper expectations. "It adds up in every part of the supply chain," says Elliott Grant, founder and CTO of Yottamark, the company behind food traceability platform HarvestMark. "Some product is left on the farm, some is rejected at receiving, some is wasted at the stores. At every part of the chain a little is added to that pile."

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