Food Waste – A Luxury Problem?

By Ingo Koenig

What does the agri-food sector produce? The obvious answer would be food. Well, this is not entirely true. About 40% of what the food sector produces is waste and with the bulk of it thrown out by the consumers – that sounds anything but lean. Throughout the value chain from field to belly approximately that amount ends in the trash can in Canada, the figures – if available – are similar for other developed countries.

Why? A lot of it has to do with our spoiled taste buds and visual preferences. Would we really buy the two-forked, crooked carrot or the lettuce that has a few brown corners? Or what about that yogurt in our fridge that has somehow managed to sneak into a corner where we almost forgot about it and now is dangerously close to code?

Some of it also has to do with the sometimes perverse incentives to overbuy on our weekly treks to the supermarket – if it’s Buy-
One-Get-One-Free, we may as well, shouldn’t we?

Whether it’s consumers demanding ever more sanitized products from the industry, government bodies micro-regulating the shape and size of produce, or industry price wars that started this mess, we do not know. What we have learned is that there are creative ways in which to benefit from this overproduction of waste (and at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by composting or rotting food) from gleaning fields for produce eliminated from the value chain right at harvest, ‘dumpster diving’ for edibles at grocery stores, to using what can truly no longer be meant for human and animal consumption as feed stock in biogas plants.

Engaging with groceries and food producers before they throw out what they deem unsalable and redistributing it to those in need is what Toronto-based Second Harvest has been doing for over 25 years. With their seven trucks, the organization rescues produce, dairy, meat and bread that would have otherwise gone to waste from food outlets across the city and region and distributes it to food banks, meal programs and shelters. Last year was a record year for Second Harvest – 6.4 million pounds of food was rescued and delivered to those in need.

However, the observation that we consumers throw out food that need not go to waste also holds true for Second Harvest’s own clients. Koenig & Consultants is therefore supporting the organization in a pro bono consulting project in which we jointly look for ways to tackle this challenge and thereby increase the impact Second Harvest has on food waste reduction and providing healthy and nutritious meals to those unable to afford them otherwise.

Ingo studied business administration and economics at Kiel University where he received a PhD in economic policy and also earned an MBA from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, USA. Visit

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