Marketing against hunger: Food insecurity and food waste

Wasted potatoes

Put on your marketing hat, then set these two recent announcements side-by-side:

Seeing these together brings to my mind words like irony, tragedy, and waste–as well asĀ  marketing, challenge, and opportunity.

There are several different reasons to solve this problem:

  • Food waste is expensive for producers and consumers
  • Poor nutrition impacts health and learning, especially for children, which in turn creates other social costs and problems
  • Food production and distribution consumes a lot of fossil fuels; wasted food drives up the carbon emissions with no resulting benefit (wasted food consumes two percent of all U.S. energy use)
  • Growing, cleaning, and preparing food also consumes water
  • Decomposing food waste in landfills contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (according to the EPA, 17 percent of U.S. methane emissions come from landfills)

Embedded in this situation are several possible marketing challenges and opportunities:

  • Product: Can we design food that stays nutritious and compelling longer, so that people don’t throw out spoiled or uninteresting food? Can we find profitable uses for unconsumed or spoiled food?
  • Price: Is food too cheap? Do we pay for it in the right way? (That may sound funny, but if Americans throw out $400 of food per person per year, maybe they don’t value it enough, and price is a reflection of value.)
  • Distribution: Can we store, ship, and sell food more efficiently, so that it doesn’t spoil while in inventory? Can we get it more effectively to people living in food deserts?
  • Promotion: How can we use communications to change behaviors related to buying, using, and disposing of food?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has started the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to help address this problem. But this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon; wasted food is a global problem. That also means a global marketing opportunity.

Where would you start in marketing to address food waste?

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