The issue of food waste is top of mind for many now. Indeed in many iterations of The London Produce Show and Conference and The New York Produce Show and Conference, scholars have addressed the issue in seminars and workshops such as these:
UNIVERSITY HEAVYWEIGHT PUTS SCIENCE BEHIND OPTIMIZED GLEANING SCHEDULES: Cornell’s Miguel Gómez Talks About How The Produce Industry Can Put Itself On The Side Of The Angels By Reducing Food Waste While Helping The Hungry
So with The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference fast approaching, we heard about a new approach Albert Heijn is supporting that just might make a difference. So we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:
Instock, an innovative food rescue project to combat food waste, operates through a partnership with Albert Heijn Supermarkets, where food waste is collected from its retail stores and incorporated into menus at Instock restaurants and take-away locations in Amsterdam, and more recently in the Hague, while an Instock food truck serves street food at festivals and events. Instock was founded by four former colleagues who worked together at Albert Heijn, and is supported by the leading retailer’s board of directors.
Instock collects all its fruits, vegetables and bread designated as food waste from Albert Heijn Supermarkets in Amsterdam, and works with other vendors in the supply chain for its meats, fish, drinks, and other sustainable resources. “We call ourselves a social corporate enterprise. We’re a foundation with two goals, first to reduce food waste, and second to re-invest any profit back to Instock and sustainable projects,” says Selma Seddick, an Instock co-founder, at the grand opening this summer of the first Instock restaurant in the Hague.
Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS had a chance to connect with Jan Ernst de Groot, chief legal officer and member of the executive committee at Royal Ahold Delhaize, during the Instock launch in the Hague. “We are the linchpin to educate our customers and to help address the serious problem of food waste,” he says. “One billion people around the world go hungry. This is not only wasteful but unethical,” he says. “Our retail brands serve millions of customers in the U.S. and in Europe, and we have a platform to make a difference,” he explains, adding, “Superfluous food in the stores can be rejected because it looks ugly. Instock was created by our own associates to rescue this food, and to look at the problem with different eyes, and now we support them,” he says.
“An electric food rescue truck goes around Amsterdam to the different stores and collects the rejected produce because of shelf life or appearance, but it is still perfectly edible,” says Seddick. “Working for Albert Heijn, we saw a lot of waste and wanted to take action,” she continued, describing the problem she and her associates witnessed as the impetus to start Instock, adding, “We are very lucky to work with Albert Heijn.”
Instock collaborates closely with Albert Heijn to resolve logistical issues. “A big challenge is to train employees in Albert Heijn on how to select and sort the items,” explained Esther Slelwagen, day manager at the Instock restaurant in Amsterdam, during a separate visit.
The restaurant menus change constantly, as chefs are challenged to spontaneously create dishes based on what food waste is rescued each day,” she explains, noting patrons can also purchase products at the restaurant to prepare at home, such as zucchini, cucumber, tomato soups, and a mushroom farm kit.
“We make our own beer from surplus potatoes, and we brew it in local breweries. The granola is made from the grain at the end of the beer process,” says Seddick. Chefs have to be resourceful and highly flexible. “In a regular restaurant, chefs have a set menu and can prepare in advance. Here, the chefs don’t know what they’re getting each day, so they combine elements that work really well together and develop new flavors,” she says.
Instock’s food rescue concept, while in its infancy, has great potential, according to Jan Ernst de Groot of Royal Ahold Delhaize. “Instock serves as an eye-opener for building innovative strategies to reduce global food waste.”
This is not the first time we heard of supermarkets culling their own shelves and back rooms for produce to donate. A piece that was done on Kroger and another on Price Chopper, in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, for example detailed that chain’s efforts to donate produce in this manner.
In this case, however, Instock is a specialized chain of food trucks and restaurants built to use this product.
It is all very interesting, but we will see how the economics work out.
There is a risk on the supermarket side that employees, anxious to do good, may give away produce that could have been sold.
Another issue is that many supermarkets are now using this exact selection of produce in their in-store prepared foods operation. If the avocado is getting soft, it can be donated, or a store can make guacamole. As stores try to capitalize on what is really a kind of “free” source of ingredients, it is not clear that the amount of produce available for such donations won’t decline.
And there is the whole cost of collecting and repurposing these items. The produce supply chain is very efficient. One big California-based shipper happens to have an affiliated operation in the Midwestern US. Many East Coast buyers want the product, thinking that it is more local than the California product. Yet, very often the cheapest way to distribute that product is to have a full trailer of the Midwest product brought out to California where pallets of the product can be added to full loads going out to the Eastern retailers! So having to send vans and trucks to pick up product from every store may not be efficient at all.
Will consumers want to support restaurants and food trucks that are promoted as using this product? Maybe — many people may feel good about avoiding food waste. But others may think it is less sanitary or just may want a more predictable menu.
This is a unique effort to do something good for the world. We wish them every good fortune in this endeavor and salute Albert Heijn for trying to make it work.