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Inflation fuels corporate drive to reduce food waste

Data, technology, creativity helping address the 15 tonnes of food wasted daily in Metro Vancouver
benliegey-cc owner and CEO Ben Liegey consults hospitality businesses on how to reduce food waste | Chung Chow

People who went to a recent Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association event were treated to what they were told was “a trash buffet.”

No, the organizers were not dissing the caterers’ expertise. was there to help educate hospitality sector insiders on how to reduce food waste – something that can help restaurant owners’ bottom lines. Consumers are also seeking ways to reduce food waste given that high inflation is eroding their purchasing power - in some cases enough to force them to resort to theft or go to food banks. owner and CEO Ben Liegey told BIV that he provided the delegates with delicious eats made with things that are normally thrown out. His pesto sauce, for example, was made with a boiled and ground Parmesan cheese rind and carrot greens.

His banana bread included bananas bought from that were in rough-enough shape that they could not be sold. The treat included banana peels and the fruit.

Hatch Hospitality account manager Krista Lockhead attended the event and told BIV the banana bread tasted great, and that she was surprised that it included banana peels. 

Liegey is making a documentary film about reducing food waste, but his main business is consulting restaurant owners and others in the hospitality sector on how to reduce food waste.

He provides recipes; he also urges clients to offer different-sized portions to diners, as that can enhance customer satisfaction while enabling people to sample more of the menu, he said.

He pointed to a 2011 Science Direct study that found that when there is loud music in a restaurant, people tend to drink more and prefer sweet foods over salty foods – a finding that restaurant owners could keep in mind when creating menus and curating music selections. 

“The key takeaway is to understand where food waste is happening in the organization,” he said. “To track food waste, you need to know if you have more kitchen waste or more plated-food waste. If you are not able to answer that question, you should start getting some data.”

Many catering companies have long-established processes to ensure food does not go to waste. 

The Lazy Gourmet founder Susan Mendelson told BIV that her company has protocols for where to send food, depending on what is left over. Some food, she said, goes to Covenant House Vancouver, which has a program called Covey’s Cupboard that distributes food to at-risk youth. 

Mendelson sold her company to foodservice giant Compass Group in January.

Established restaurant owners similarly say they long ago took steps to reduce food waste in their kitchens because it cut into profits. 

“We’re so tight on our ordering controls and our usage controls that we just don’t have much food waste. It’s not an issue for us,” Earls Restaurant + Bar owner Stan Fuller told BIV. “Our problem, and a lot of restaurants’ problem, is being shorted on certain supplies, because the supply chain has been disrupted.”

Restaurant owners who are left with excess food in their kitchens could look to SkipTheDishes, which recently launched a pilot project to reduce food waste in Metro Vancouver. Restaurants such as Megabite Pizza, Ogenki Sushi Fusion and Arvind’s Curry & Cocktail are taking part.

The initiative enables restaurateurs to offer end-of-day discounts on unsold menu items that may otherwise go to waste. 

Chefs can create new menu items, made with surplus ingredients, that become available in the last two hours of the restaurant’s operating day.

The offers appear in the SkipTheDishes app as “Do Good Deal” items, which may be heavily discounted.

Leftover food can also sometimes be repurposed by local B.C. technology companies.

Burnaby’s TrendiTech Inc., for example, helps convert misshapen and past-prime produce into freeze-dried packaged products that come in powdered or flaked form. Consumers can then use those products in smoothies or baked goods.

TrendiTech has a mobile lab that can be dropped off at farms to clean, process and freeze-dry fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.

Delta-based EnWave Corp. (TSX-Venture:ENW) has something similar, although customers who have misshapen or past-prime fruit must take them to EnWave’s Annacis Island facility, where EnWave staff help them – for a fee – use EnWave’s equipment to freeze-dry fruits and vegetables and make them into a powder, or a solid bar, EnWave CEO Brent Charleton told BIV.

Enwave’s facility is able to process large volumes of fruits and vegetables, he added.

“TrendiTech, and some other folks that are doing it onsite for different agriculture companies, are clearly going to be limited by scale,” said Charleton.

Food banks are happy to take whatever food is not able to be converted for resale.

Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB) CEO David Long estimated to BIV that about 15 tonnes of food goes to waste each day in Metro Vancouver. 

He said it is “not necessarily” true that grocers and food manufacturers give food to food banks because they want to be good corporate citizens.

The real reason, he said, is that companies often have so much food in warehouses that there is little room for them to store new deliveries.

Food banks welcome leftover food 

Local food banks accept food that would otherwise go to waste because it is slightly past best-before dates, or because of improper storage.

“There can be food arriving at the Port of Vancouver that is one degree off the perfect temperature,” Long said. “There’s basically nothing wrong with that food but it would all end up in landfill.”

One example of this was last summer, when green grapes in containers were stored at a slightly higher temperature than required, he said.

“We got 20 tonnes of green grapes that you and I would have been delighted to purchase at Costco (Nasdaq:COST), or wherever, so we were giving not bags of grapes but flats of grapes. Everybody could take them,” he said.

When COVID-19 restrictions banned cruise ships from operating in Canadian waters, the GVFB was able to get some food that those ships would have served passengers, Long said. 

“We actually got about six or seven shipping containers of cruise-ship food,” he said. “We were not only handing out steaks, but we were handing out duck and prawns and scallops.”

The GVFB has a wide range of foods but some people with allergies and dietary restrictions may find options to be meagre. 

That is why Burnaby’s Daiya Foods donates its plant-based, allergen-free food to food banks, CEO Michael Watt told BIV

He estimated that his company last year donated more than two million portions of products to food banks. 

His company also established inside a Toronto food bank a special pantry that is specifically for people who get reactions to a range of allergens, and cannot eat meat, dairy, soy or gluten.

“When they come into the food bank, there’s a dedicated section for the allergen community that Daiya has funded and sponsored,” he said. 

“We are planning on expanding the food-pantry program with additional food banks in Canada and the U.S. We are definitely looking to open one in B.C. this year.”•

(This is Part 1 of a two-part feature on food supply that appeared in the March 20 edition of BIV. To read Part 2, on how inflation is prompting more food theft and more food-bank demand, click here.)

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