How Whole Foods creates a second chance for would-be food waste

Whole Foods Market aims to protect its communities and the environment through food waste redistribution and diversion.

Since the company’s inception on Sept. 20, 1980, Whole Foods Market Inc. has grown to become a multinational supermarket chain, including more than 500 stores across the United States. With a focus on selling products free from hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, the Austin-based grocery market is most known for its organics selections.

Expanding rapidly in the last decade, the company has boasted rising net sales, bringing in over $16 billion in 2017, the same year Amazon purchased Whole Foods. However, this increasing demand has brought about a key issue needed to be addressed—food waste.

“Since we opened our first store in 1980, we’ve not only been passionate about healthy food, but we’ve also been passionate about a healthy planet and nourishing our communities, which is why we invest in food waste and food redistribution programs,” says Jen Monaco, executive leader of operations for Whole Foods. “Our stores sell and make … fresh food and it’s important to our team members that edible food waste can be donated, thus providing meals for those who may need it in their community.”

Currently, the company follows a strong food waste strategy to prevent and divert food from entering landfill, mirroring what is proposed in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Food Recovery Hierarchy. According to Whole Foods, each store’s team members are thoroughly trained on food waste efficiency, from smart ordering to food donation best practices.

“Team members record all items sampled, donated or spoiled. Our [staff] reviews reports and data to see what has been purchased, sold and spoiled to adjust their purchasing decisions accordingly,” the company says.

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For food waste that cannot be dealt with at the source, Whole Foods has implemented food donation stations for stores in its Northern California region, which offer daily food rescue pickups.

These designated areas feature job aids, department guidelines, trainings and signage to help guide the store on setting up and maintaining the food donation stations. This helps keep the donation areas clean, organized and efficient for team members and food rescue agencies, according to the company.

“When Whole Foods Market stores have food to be donated, our team members take great care to maintain quality and assure the food is safe to consume. After the team member has recorded the item, they properly package it and place it in a storage bin for collection,” says Susan Livingston, Whole Foods’ global marketing director and community engagement lead.

The Amazon-owned grocery retailer has also partnered with the national organization Food Donation Connection, which assists food service companies with the development and implementation of “Harvest Programs” designed to provide an alternative to discarding surplus food.