Why and How to Measure Food Loss and Waste

Retail - Why and How to Measure Food Loss and Waste


Food retailers tend to have a relatively large influence on FLW throughout the supply chain. Because of their dominant buying power, retailers can influence FLW further upstream (i.e., primary production, processing and manufacturing) and even distribution. Because of their typical place right before final consumption in the food supply chain, variability within the retail sector can lead to FLW in the food service and household stages.

FLW in retail can be caused by any number of factors, including but not limited to: damage and spoilage, lack of cold-chain infrastructure, delays during transport (e.g., border inspections), variable customer demands, modification or cancellation of orders, inaccurate customer forecasting and overstocking, reliance on inefficient stocking practices or product sizes, misinterpretation of food safety standards, and misleading or confusing date labeling.

Because the specifics of this sector vary by country, so do the root causes behind the associated FLW. Generation and prevention of FLW differ from country to country and even organization to organization, and interventions must be tailored to the context.

Some approaches to preventing FLW in retail are listed below.

  • Working with actors upstream in the food supply chain to increase the share of second-grade products that are accepted and valorized to some point.
  • Working with actors across the food supply chain to expand value-added processing in order to increase the proportion of produced food able to eventually be consumed.
  • Standardizing date labels to reduce the amount of FLW generated from confusion over food safety.
  • Implementing packaging adjustments to extend the life of food products and reduce damage during storage or transport.
  • Rethinking purchasing models in order to maintain freshness and reduce shrink.

Methods Used to Measure FLW

Appropriate methods for FLW measurement depend on the context of who is doing the measuring and what information is available. Start by answering the five questions below.

  • Do you have direct access to the FLW? Does the method require the ability to directly count, handle or weigh the FLW?
  • What level of accuracy do you need? How accurate will the data gathered with this method be?
  • What amount of time and resources can you assign to measuring FLW? The relative amount of resources (time, money, equipment) needed to carry out the method.
  • Do you need a method that can tracks causes of FLW? Some methods can track causes associated with FLW and others cannot.
  • Do you want to track progress over time? Some methods can assess increases or decreases in FLW across time to track progress.

Based on your needs and the answers to these questions, you can use Table 11 to determine which method or methods are most appropriate. If you are addressing multiple types of FLW (for example, both solid and liquid FLW), you may need to select multiple types of methods.

Table 11. Methods Used to Measure FLW in the Retail Sector

Method Name Direct FLW Access Needed? Level of Accuracy? Level of Resources Required? Tracks Causes? Tracks Progress Over Time?
Methods for gathering new data
Direct Measurement Yes High High Yes Yes
Waste Composition Analysis Yes High High No Yes
Methods based on existing data
Mass Balance No Medium Low No Yes
Proxy Data No Low Low No No
Records No Variable* Low No Yes
Less commonly used methods at the retail sector
Diaries No Low-Medium Medium Yes Yes
Interviews/Surveys No Low-Medium Medium-High Yes Yes

*Accuracy depends on the type of record used: for example, waste transfer receipts may be highly accurate for determing FLW levels, whereas other records are less accurate.
Note: The methods named are nonexhaustive.
Source: Authors.

If you need additional guidance in selecting a method, the FLW Quantification Method Ranking Tool published by the Food Loss and Waste Protocol asks a series of 11 questions and provides a ranked list of methods based on your circumstances.

Case Study for the Retail Sector

Delhaize America, a food retailer, implemented a food waste measurement and reduction program in its East Coast stores and distribution centers. Through direct measurement with Scanner information and waste separation, Delhaize America is able to consistently track food waste over time. They have used this information to identify waste hotspots and to reduce FLW across their operations. For example, daily deliveries of fresh product (via computer-assisted ordering systems) has improved order accuracy and inventory management, greatly reducing the amount of produce that goes to waste. In some locations, staff noticed that more food was going to compost, which signaled a need for better coordination with local food banks to ensure that food safe for human consumption was not needlessly being composted rather than serving those in need. Such observations led to more food going to feed people and less food becoming waste.