Spoiler Alert Blog | Food Waste


3 solutions for capturing food waste data and when to use each

Spoiler Alert

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At Spoiler Alert, we’re firm believers in the value of data. We often talk about how a better understanding of data enables major food businesses to improve unsold inventory management, or how food companies can leverage data to build a business case for waste reduction. But what does this look like in practice?

To answer that question, we recently published a free eBook that details the essential components for developing a data-driven strategy to capture value from unsold inventory and reduce the volume of food that goes to waste. In this post, we dig deeper on three solutions for capturing data, focusing on how these tools complement one another and when to employ each. Download the eBook for additional information on the power of data and how companies are leveraging this knowledge for action.

Solutions for collecting food waste data

Food businesses have options to collect data on unsold inventory and food waste, which differ in terms of purpose, accuracy, completeness, continuity, and level of investment required. For this reason, food businesses can leverage multiple solutions to collect data and inform different phases of a food waste reduction initiative.

The maturity of a food company’s waste reduction program, coupled with its size and scale, will be helpful factors in determining the most appropriate and effective solution. Regardless of where a company is in the reduction process, it is important to identify and use a consistent, credible data collection strategy that provides the actionable insights necessary to drive forward the initiative.

1. Waste audit

A waste audit is a systematic review of a facility and its operations to quantify waste generation and identify activities that lead to avoidable waste. Waste audits are typically used as a discovery or education tool in the early stages of a food waste reduction initiative. When implemented effectively, a waste audit provides a snapshot in time of the types and amounts of waste an organization generates, which can be extrapolated to figure out aggregated volumes over an extended period of time. Resulting data and analysis can be leveraged to identify purchasing and operational behaviors that lead to certain items being wasted more than others, as well as a tool for engaging new and existing waste hauling service providers.

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A waste audit can be an effective discovery or education tool since the activity is 'hands on'. Image from University of Michigan. 

Waste audits help a company understand the ‘low hanging fruit’ that a reduction program can target. For example, if a company’s waste audit reveals large quantities of bagged lettuce are being trashed, this can trigger conversation on why this is happening and what can be corrected. As companies try to get more granular with the data, the volume and type of waste that a business generates may limit the effectiveness of a waste audit. In addition, since waste audits only provide a ‘snapshot in time’, they must be conducted multiple times over a certain period to monitor progress.

2. Tracking applications

Whereas waste audits provide a ‘snapshot in time’, waste tracking applications help food businesses continuously collect waste generation data to inform behavioral and operational changes that facilitate reductions. Driven by the concept ‘what gets measured, gets managed,’ solutions provide hard data on the volume, type, and (sometimes) financial value of food that goes to waste in a distribution center or a kitchen, enabling staff to identify improvement areas and build a business case for investing in reduction solutions. Food companies that are struggling to capture actionable insights from audits may consider investing in tracking applications to get the data (such as the dates, shifts, or product categories that correspond to high waste generation) necessary to improve the effectiveness of a food waste reduction program.

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Foodservice employees use a waste tracking tool to measure kitchen prep waste. Image from BioCycle. 

There are a number of for-profit companies that offer waste tracking and analytics solutions, which differ by service offering, technology, and cost. Many of America’s leading foodservice providers, including Compass Group, Aramark, and Sodexo, use waste tracking tools to drive source reduction of wasted food. In addition, businesses have found waste tracking applications to be helpful at holding employees accountable for higher-than-average waste generation.

3. Management software

Management software platforms offer real-time, continuous data tracking and analytics to deliver a holistic solution for managing unsold product and reducing food waste. In a company’s warehouse or distribution center, food waste occurs when unsold inventory is sent for disposal, whereby its value is greatly diminished. Factors contributing to unsold inventory are often outside a company’s direct control, making the complete elimination of unsold products difficult.

Management software helps companies overcome the unsold inventory challenge by providing insights like product volume, type, and quality that help inform optimal management strategies (e.g., food donation or discounted sales) to recover value from unsold product before it goes to waste. Software solutions are also effective tools for benchmarking performance across facilities and supporting the establishment of standard operating procedures for managing unsold product. In a sense, management software combines similar measurement and tracking elements mentioned above with the functionality to immediately act on the insights produced in a consistent manner.

It is possible that a company is already capturing unsold inventory and waste data through an existing warehouse management software (WMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform. These datasets tend to be siloed or managed via spreadsheets, making it difficult to draw actionable insights that inform improved management strategies.

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A screenshot of the Spoiler Alert dashboard showing Diversion SummaryTop Outlets, and Product Mix

Our company, Spoiler Alert, provides a dedicated solution for unsold inventory management, built to help companies recover value from unsold inventory and reduce waste. Which management solution is best will depend on factors such as existing technology, corporate commitment, and annual volumes of unsold inventory.

From data to action... 

Food waste reduction strategies that create operational and financial benefits will be driven by data, and there are a range of solutions for obtaining it. Understanding where a company is in its waste reduction program, and what data will help move the program forward, is essential for identifying the most effective data capture solution.

Not sure what solution may be best for you? Speak through the options with an expert today.


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Topics: sustainability, unsold inventory, food brand