Finding the Business Stories in Food Waste

by August 22, 2016
Americans waste food at frantic rates. Business reporters have much to report on.

Americans waste food at frantic rates. Business reporters have much to report on. (Photo by Creative Commons Flickr User Philip Stewart, “Groceries” CC 2.0 License.)

America faces a food waste crisis: The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 30 to 40 percent of the country’s food supply goes unused. Journalists can explore the trend by looking at the business angles behind the news story, and finding ways fresh data can move the reporting forward. This blog outlines tips to achieve both goals.

Seek the Corporate Response

One ongoing trend is for large corporate retailers, such as Walmart and Whole Foods, to stock irregularly shaped produce instead of consigning it to the trash. While odd looking fruits and vegetables won’t win any beauty contests, they taste just as good as their perfect brethren. Companies such as Whole Foods are also positioning themselves as resources that help consumers reduce food waste at home by educating them about portion control, repurposing leftovers and rotating food items in the fridge and pantry to ensure older items are in front. Meanwhile, new businesses are emerging around the goal of reducing food waste. A company in Denmark last year launched Too Good To Go, an app allowing restaurants and other food establishments to alert consumers about the food they plan to toss at the end of the day, giving users an opportunity to purchase the food at highly reduced rates.

Weave in the Data

Data builds on the purpose and importance of your business reporting. So make sure you weave in numbers to show your readers what’s at stake. For instance, in writing on the irregularly shaped fruit trend, consider mentioning data from the National Resources Defense Council, which reports that 10 to 30 percent of discarded produce is thrown away because of its appearance.  In a 2012 paper, the same nonprofit found that Americans waste 40 percent of their food, the average family of four tossing away up to $2,275 in grocery expenditures each year. CNBC reported the startling fact from the National Institutes of Health that American consumers throw out 50 percent more food now than they did in the 70s.

Tap the Experts

Find the best sources for your data through nonprofits paying attention to food waste and how we can turn things around.

Cover the Trends

In your reporting, look for industry moves to combat food waste as well. For instance, the restaurant industry banded together to create a tool kit to help restaurant owners and workers waste less food, cut down on the amount of food put in landfills and help improve restaurant profits. Tips included conducting an inventory to understand what food employees threw away or left unused, and why. The New York Times ran an intriguing piece on an Italian chef who raised funds to create a dining hall where he and other chefs would make meals for Rio’s homeless. The chef used donated leftover food from restaurants serving the masses at this year’s Olympic Games.

Reporter’s Takeaway

  • Weave in the corporate response — tell your readers what the big players are doing to reduce food waste
  • Use good data — your readers then better understand what’s at stake
  • Quote the experts and papers from the leading nonprofits tracking the problem
  • Cover the trends — there’s power in numbers

Photo by Creative Commons Flickr User Philip Stewart, “Groceries” CC 2.0 License.

Debbi G McCullough runs Hanging Rock Media. She writes and edits for the Guardian’s Guardian Labs, Washington Post’s WP BrandStudio and the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. She also teaches business communication part-time at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and is a United Nations Foundations press fellow 2016.


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