Selling Surplus Food

community shop

This week I want to add a post to my food series and related posts from earlier this year.

One of the posts in the series was about wasted food.

The Scale of Waste

Just to give you an idea of the content I opened with the following: It is estimated that in the USA between 40 and 50% of all food produced is wasted. There are about 320 million people in the US, so we could safely say that this wasted food could feed at least 100 million people.

And the shocking thing is that nearly all of this wasted food is edible. It is close to its sell by date, the packaging is damaged or incorrectly labeled, Christmas pudding in January. Much of it never even gets to the shops, it fails a quality test because the label is not correctly attached or the packet printing is wrong, and it is discarded.

This week the first UK based Community Shop opened, and in this shop they only sell discarded food. Sounds like a great idea, they take food that is lost during the preparation stages, on its way to the supermarket, and food that is discarded once it has arrived or sat on the shelves for a while, and they re-sell it. Very cheap (70% less), you can make a profit and waste problem resolved I thought. Great!

But of course it is not that simple.

Supply and Demand

One problem is that if you sell this food at a fraction of the previous price, people will buy it and not the full price food. This means that for every tin of beans bought at the community shop, a supermarket sells one tin less. So they might not like that, and that is why in many cases they prefer to destroy the food than to pass it on.

This problem can be seen in this case on a local scale, but it also happens on a global scale. How do you think the farmer in South Africa feels when she sees thousands of tons of free US grown grain distributed for free in a neighboring country? She cannot compete and sell her food any more. Feeding a population without charging them directly destroys surrounding markets.

This is not just a food problem. When we donate our old clothes and they turn up worn by kids in Kenya (Manchester United shirts come to mind), that means that those kids did not buy their clothes, and the local clothes suppliers, and makers, and distributors, don’t work.

So the community shop have found an answer. You have to be a member to buy food there, and to be a member you have to be receiving benefit from the government and live within a local postcode area. Only 500 members at a time, and membership is not for life. The shop also offers free courses in food preparation, CV writing, and many other things that help to manage the household and improve quality of life. Sounds great, but we should remember that many people are working poor that do not receive benefits, or have fallen through the benefit net, what about them? What we need is more of these shops, so that the entry rules can be broader.

This is a great idea. Let’s use the stuff instead of throwing it out. And to be honest I have little sympathy for an industry that is so wasteful and non-sustainable.

If there were a community shop of this type on every corner we could all benefit, and I for one wish them well with their endeavour.