Niles quoted in New York Times article on food waste solutions
“Happy hour” at the S-market store in the working-class neighborhood of Vallila happens far from the liquor aisles and isn’t exactly convivial. Nobody is here for drinks or a good time. They’re looking for a steep discount on a slab of pork.
Or a chicken, or a salmon fillet, or any of a few hundred items that are hours from their midnight expiration date. Food that is nearly unsellable goes on sale at every one of S-market’s 900 stores in Finland, with prices that are already reduced by 30 percent slashed to 60 percent off at exactly 9 p.m. It’s part of a two-year campaign to reduce food waste that company executives in this famously bibulous country decided to call “happy hour” in the hopes of drawing in regulars, like any decent bar.
“I’ve gotten quite hooked on this,” said Kasimir Karkkainen, 27, who works in a hardware store, as he browsed the meat section in the Vallila S-market. It was 9:15 and he had grabbed a container of pork mini-ribs and two pounds of shrink-wrapped pork tenderloin.
Total cost after the price drop: the equivalent of $4.63.
About one-third of the food produced and packaged for human consumption is lost or wasted, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That equals 1.3 billion tons a year, worth nearly $680 billion. The figures represent more than just a disastrous misallocation of need and want, given that 10 percent of people in the world are chronically undernourished. All that excess food, scientists say, contributes to climate change.
A growing number of supermarkets, restaurants and start-ups — many based in Europe — are trying to answer that question. The United States is another matter.
“Food waste might be a uniquely American challenge because many people in this country equate quantity with a bargain,” said Meredith Niles an assistant professor in food systems and policy at the University of Vermont. “Look at the number of restaurants that advertise their supersized portions.”
Nine of the 10 United States supermarket chains that were assessed by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity last year were given a C grade or lower on food-waste issues. Only Walmart did better, largely for its efforts to standardize date labels and to educate staffers and customers.