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Focus on Food Waste: What Can Dairy Do?

Feb 03, 2016
Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, moderated the panel.

Dairy foods companies have a unique opportunity to contribute to the reduction and, in some cases, elimination of food waste. That was the message from a Dairy Forum 2016 panel, “Can Dairy Take a Bigger Bite Out of Food Waste,” moderated by Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs. Three panelists shared stories about how to reduce food waste along with a compelling business reason: It can save money and even generate revenue.

According to Erin Fitzgerald Sexson, senior vice president of global sustainability for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the United States wastes 31 percent to 40 percent of its post-harvest food supply. A substantial portion of this waste occurs at the consumer level.

To feed the world’s population over the next 40 years, Sexson said the world economy will need as much food as has been produced over the last 8,000 years. Add the challenges created by climate change and less water, and producers and processors face a daunting task, she added.

Kroger Co. Sees Increased Savings

Suzanne Lindsay-Walker, director of sustainability for Kroger Co., said her company has seen increased savings from implementing food waste programs at the store level instead of paying to haul away the waste. Kroger is setting the new standard among food manufacturers, Lindsay-Walker said, adding that the company now has 30 plants with zero waste and more than 1000 stores with effective programs and policies in place.

Jeremy Kranowitz, executive director of Sustainable America, a non-profit organization working to make the nation’s food and fuel systems more efficient, alerted the audience to an Ad Council campaign on food waste that will appear later this year. Past Ad Council efforts like “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” have caused rapid consumer behavior change, and retailers and manufacturers should be prepared, Kranowitz said.

He also encouraged attendees to visit the Sustainable America website,, to learn more about food waste and to share it with customers and consumers.

Saving Money a Motivator for Consumers

The fourth presentation was prepared by Patti Truant Anderson, a research scientist at the University of Chicago and a faculty associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Although Anderson was unable to attend because of the snowstorm on the East Coast, she sent a presentation based on her research and resulting report, titled “Wasted Food: U.S. Consumers Reported Knowledge, Attitudes and Awareness.” The report showed that saving money is a big motivator for consumers to reduce food waste.

A PDF of the panelists’ slides and highlights from the research report is available here.

One question in Anderson’s consumer survey, which centered on why consumers throw out milk, caught Frye’s attention. Some respondents said they used the “sell by” dates to determine when milk should be thrown away.  

“The dairy industry has a real opportunity to try and educate consumers that this date is not a safety or spoilage concern, but rather an indicator for stores,” said Frye.

Ideas into Action

IDFA put ideas into action this year by sharing donated dairy products with Waste Not, an organization that delivers food the same day to agencies that feed the hungry, including schools, after-school programs, daycare centers, rehabilitation centers, transition homes and senior facilities. On the final day of Dairy Forum, Waste Not picked up a variety of individual-size packages of cheese, ice cream and milk to distribute to hungry people in the Phoenix area.

For more information, contact Frye at

Dairy Delivers