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Supermarket of the future and one way to handle the scandal with food waste

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In addition to making food businesses more profitable, new technologies can also help tackle the fast-approaching issue of global food shortages. Bjorn Thumas, Director Business Development at TOMRA Food, explains.

Supermarkets of the near-future will have their business models radically re-shaped by innovations instore, online, and in the food industry supply chain. Producing and selling food will become more environmentally responsible because sustainability and profitability both depend on the efficient use of resources.

The global population is forecast to increase from 7.6 billion to 10 billion people by 2050, and in many places food demand is already outstripping supply. To illustrate the rapid pace of change, agricultural demand today is 50% greater than it was just five years ago.

In addition to these pressures, there is another challenge which must be tackled, and that’s food waste. Almost one-third of all the food produced worldwide is currently being wasted, amounting to approximately 1.3 billion tons of food rotting away or being thrown away every year. It is shocking to learn that waste accounts for around 45% of all fruit and vegetables and 20% of all meat. This is scandalous. Just one quarter of this wasted food could feed the 795 million chronically hungry people around the world.

This also has commercial implications. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), action to prevent food waste could save businesses €341 million a year. And there are clear indicators of where action needs to be taken. Some 54% of all this waste is lost in upstream processes, much resulting from inefficiencies in developing countries during harvesting, post-harvest handling, and processing. The other 46% is wasted in processing, distribution and consumption, with massive consumer-led waste in developed nations.

As a leading provider of integrated post-harvest solutions to the global fresh produce industry, TOMRA Food is acutely aware of food waste and works closely with farmers, processors and retailers to tackle the issue. TOMRA’s experience around the world shows that more needs to be done to prevent so much “good product” being removed unnecessarily from the processing line because of inefficient sorting. TOMRA is continuously developing sustainable solutions with its customers and many other companies.

A quick-win can be gained by optimizing the latest sensor-based sorting solutions. The potential here is considerable. Optimized sorting machines are capable of determining, for example, that 70% of a poor-looking crop is actually of good quality. This makes a huge difference: at the same time as meeting precisely defined quality standards, the majority of the product can be sold and consumed, feeding people and making profit, rather than consigning it to waste. Selling fruit or vegetables as a lower-grade of produce, or for a different processed product than originally intended, is far better than not selling it at all.

Waste can also be reduced through reverse sorting. Waste streams containing as little as 1% to 2% of good product are often discarded, but this is unnecessary. With the correct optical set-up, arrived at by the sorting machine manufacturer having a good understanding of the potential purposes of ‘side-streams,’ automated sorters can recover this waste. This is becoming common practice in the nut industry, making better use of natural food resources and simultaneously adding commercial value and profit.

For these profound reasons, sorting technology will play an increasingly important role in the supermarket of the future. And because the financial and ethical reasons for reducing food waste are urgent, that future needs to start right now!

For further information, please see

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France SARL AROMAVE - France - 1. Curly parsley - 2. Italian parsley - 3. Fresh aromatic herbs
Kenya Go Foods Ltd - Kenya - 1. Avocados - 2. Mango - 3. Passion Fruit / Passionfruit / Purple Granadilla
Netherlands (the) Sweet & Fresh B.V. - Netherlands (the) - 1. Lemon - 2. Orange - 3. Red fruits
Spain Karma Produce S.L. - Spain - 1. Fruit - 2. Vegetables - 3. Lemon
China Dory Agricultural Co., Limited - China - 1. Citrus fruit - 2. Asparagus - 3. Garlic
France Du Menhir Sarl - France - 1. Strawberry - 2. Cucumber
Mexico Tropic Fresh - Mexico - 1. Lime - 2. Avocados - 3. Blueberry
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Photo by TOMRA Food
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