‘Hotspot’ food groups make up nearly 50% of waste retail costs, study finds

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Waste management Cost

Seven types of fruit and vegetable account for almost 50% of food waste costs, not just in economic terms but also quantity and climate impact, says a team looking into Swedish retail practices.

Karlstad University’s report identified apples, bananas, grapes, lettuce, pears, sweet peppers and tomatoes as ‘hotspot categories’ that contributed to the majority of waste produced by three large retail stores in Sweden.

According to Dr Lisa Mattsson, lead study author and lecturer at the Department of Engineering and Chemical Sciences at Karlstad University, “Retailers may profit by allocating more staff hours to measures that lead to reduced fruit and vegetable waste, thereby saving money and the environment.​”

Analysis by Dr Mattsson and colleagues found that around 85% of costs linked with food waste were related to the products themselves.

The cost of waste management, such as emptying and removing waste, amounts to around 6%, while the staff hours spent removing products from the shelves; recording waste and disposing of products represent another 9% of the total cost.

Since staff hours are a relatively small part in comparison to the cost of the products themselves, increasing staff hours to reduce food waste has much potential.

A cost-benefit analysis showed that the costs incurred to double the amount of time staff spend on waste reduction measures, would be the equivalent of a 10% reduction in fruit and vegetable waste.

Changing society

The research team believe that the growing and diverse nature of society has placed the onus on business, government agencies and citizens to handle food more responsibly and decrease the amounts that are wasted.

With the increase of global demand for food projected to increase by 70% by 2050, public and private representatives from the European Union, the government of France and international retailers Tesco have recently adopted goals for food loss and waste reduction.

According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, wholesalers and retail stores in Sweden, produced a food waste mountain in 2012 estimated to be 70,000 tonnes, of which 91% was considered unnecessary or avoidable.

Results from Dr Mattsson’s cost-benefit analysis share similarities with a number of previous studies in which Austrian researchers found at the retail level, the monetary value of fresh fruit and vegetables accounted for 53% of the total value of food waste.

From an environmental perspective, in a study at six retail stores in Sweden, fruit and vegetable departments contributed to 46% of the total waste of the carbon footprint.

“This study examines which fresh fruit and vegetables (FFV) categories have the largest economic cost, including the economic loss of the wasted produce, the cost of an employee’s time spent on waste management and the cost of waste collection and disposal,”​ said the research team.


In a series of data collection and analysis procedures at three large retail stores in mid-Sweden a method for measuring the waste and of calculating the economic costs was developed.

These stores were franchised-owned and part of the same retail chain called ICA, one of the Nordic region's largest player in the food retail market with a market share of 48%.

Data of in-store waste, sold quantities and purchase price were received from each store in the form of extracts from the stores’ respective databases.

To calculate the personnel cost for waste management, information regarding the stores’ daily working routines and waste management procedures were obtained.

Employees at each store were asked to register the in-store waste, which consisted of both packed and unpacked FFV.

This data consisted of the type of FFV, if it was sold in bulk or packed, the weight, the number of waste registrations and the purchase price per item.

In total, data from 40,103 waste registrations were used. When all the data was combined, 81 separate categories were revealed.

For each category, information on wasted mass, waste quota and economic cost were calculated, both for each store and then for all three stores to give the average data. 

The global warming potential (GWP) of the in-store waste was calculated by using the carbon dioxide equivalents of 1 kg of FFV and these were multiplied with the accumulated amounts of the in-store waste per FFV category.

Economic and climate costs

Results found the total amount of in-store waste of FFV for the three stores was 68 tonnes, which corresponded to an average waste quota of 1.9%.

Looking into the separate FFV categories, banana, apple and tomato were the products, which had the largest amount of in-store waste. Banana had the highest amount of waste, which was 6.4 tonnes and corresponded to 9.4% of the total wasted amount.

Regarding economic cost, lettuce, fresh herbs, tomato and sweet pepper were the top products which represented the highest economic cost.

According to the team, bananas and sweet pepper had the highest amount of GWP with a significant decrease of tomatoes to third place.

Aubergine, pineapple and peach were new categories which ended up on the climate impact top list compared to the top lists of wasted mass and economic cost.

The “hotspot categories​” added up to 31.8 tonnes and €81,100 (800,000 SEK) which corresponded to 47% of the total wasted mass and 49% of the economic cost.

“All ‘hotspot categories’ were on the economic top list, so when planning for waste reduction strategies at retail level, the stores should use their own data on economic losses as a base and be assured that they are targeting the accurate FFV categories,” ​the authors noted.

“The cost benefit analysis showed that it is economically wise to invest in more working time for employees in waste management to accomplish a reduction of the wasted mass and the climate impact without an economic loss for the store.”

Source: Resources, Conservation and Recycling

Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2017.10.037

“Waste of fresh fruit and vegetables at retailers in Sweden – Measuring and calculation of mass, economic cost and climate impact.”

Authors: Lisa Mattsson, Helén Williams, Jonas Berghel

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