Waste Not
Former Trader Joe's Exec Wants to Turn Slightly-Past-Its-Prime Food Into New Retailing Concept

Food waste is a huge problem in America and globally, with up to 40 percent of perfectly good food being trashed in the US, according to a study by Harvard and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Yet there's a lack of nutritious food in US inner cities and elsewhere.

So the ex-president of Trader Joe's is trying to put supply and demand together to create a new form of food retailing. Doug Rauch plans to open a new market, the Daily Table, in Dorchester, Mass., early next year to sell "repurposed" food as is, in lightly processed form — like a fast-food restaurant.

"It's [an] idea about how to bring affordable nutrition to the underserved in our cities," he told NPR, using food that "is, to a large degree, either excess, overstocked [or otherwise] wholesome food that's thrown out by grocers ... at the end of the day because of the sell-by dates. Or [it's from] growers that have product that's nutritionally sound, perfectly good, but cosmetically blemished or not quite up for prime time. [So we] bring this food down into a retail environment where it can become affordable nutrition."

Rauch and other food-retailing experts pointed out that one of the biggest culprits in generating food waste is "sell-by" dates that send the wrong signals to consumers and, therefore, are creating the wrong reactions by retailers. Even on produce and milk, the indicated freshness dates aren't when the product will expire and become non-consumable, but rather usually just show when their freshness has peaked. The idea behind the dates is to encourage purchase while there's still some shelf life left in the stuff.

"Most customers," Rauch told the radio network, "don't realize you can eat that."

There's also been a lot of attention lately to "food deserts" in central cities, such as the Dorchester suburb of Boston and Detroit, where there is little retailing of fresh produce and other types of the most nutritious fare. Rauch's hope is that his first store will be a success and spread across the nation.

Still, among the hurdles faced by the Daily Table will be consumers' notion that it is offering and serving food that wasn't good enough for someone else or is of fringe quality. "The food will be perceived as garbage that better-off people would never want to eat," said Barbara Haber, a food historian. "Americans have always preferred to decide for themselves what foods they will eat, and are resentful of reformers who think they know best, even when intentions are filled with good will and common sense."

Rauch may want to dial up New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for advice on that.

This post first appeared on brandchannel on September 27, 2013.

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