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Survey: 12,000 tons of food products are left unsold at food stores per year

Maha kantud köögiviljad.
Maha kantud köögiviljad.

12,000 tons of food products are left unsold and written off at Estonian food stores per year. This makes up approximately 22 billion Euros in monetary terms, reveals a survey performed by the Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre (SEI Tallinn).

"It is positive to see that there is less food waste in Estonian food stores and in the food industry in comparison with other developed countries in Europe. The main reasons for this are the lower income of the population and the volume of food consumption. On the other hand, today’s commercial sales strategies and consumer habits lead to a situation where it is not possible to sell specific food products before the expiration date. Precise planning and raising the awareness of consumers will help to reduce this problem," as explained by Harri Moora, the programme director of the Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre.

The survey shows that fruit and vegetables are the main articles left unsold in food stores (47%), which are followed by fish and meat products (18%) and bakery products (13%). The percentage of prepared foods as well as dairy products among the written off food products accounted for 10%.

Moora explains the causes of food waste as follows, “The nature of today’s commerce makes it very difficult for a company to predict and plan the sale of food products. It is expected due to intense competition that there is a large variety of food products on sale in food stores during the entire time the store is opened. A large amount of food products are sold on discount and as campaign products as the Estonian consumer is very price sensitive.”
Moora added that the quality requirements of product appearance, the awareness of the food company personnel and incompetence of food handling skills indirectly contribute to the removal of food products from sale.

Drawing unambiguous conclusions about the food industry’s food waste is somewhat more difficult, because manufacturing processes as well as causes for food waste differ greatly between sectors and companies. Estonian food industry produces 3,392 tons of food waste according to waste reporting. However, by-products that emerge in the manufacturing process but that cannot be used for human consumption are not reflected here.

Companies operating in the food industry do not often use the opportunity of donating food products, while several Estonian commercial establishments are already co-operating with the Estonian Food Bank. Moora explains, “The obstacle lies often in the absence of transportation, workforce and appropriate storage space. In addition, one reason for refusing to donate food products is the ambiguities of the legislation requirements (requirements of taxation laws as well as food safety and hygiene).” Moora also adds that experience in other countries show that preventing and reducing food waste is a long-term process, which highly depends on the awareness and willingness of parties.

Moora notes, “In conclusion, the fact is that the majority of commercial and food companies are already implementing measures to prevent and reduce the amount of food waste, which is reasonable, as reducing waste helps to lower costs.”

Peeter Eek, the Head of the Waste Department of the Ministry of Environment says, “Food waste and wasting food products, as well as food loss is becoming more and more topical over the world and in Europe. The European Union produces approximately 100 million tons of food waste every year. Eek added that reducing food waste is a very important topic of the European Union’s Circular Economy Package currently under discussion.

For this survey, 37 commercial retail and wholesale companies were inquired. In addition, a detailed analysis was carried out in 11 different types of food stores, during which the amount and reasons of the unrealised food products was examined by inspection and weighing. Furthermore, 35 companies of the seven main sectors were interviewed to obtain information about the food industry.

Estonia produces 92,000 tons of food waste per year according to the waste reporting data. Predominant part of this waste (approximately 70,000 tons) is produced in households; the rest is produced in other stages of the food chain – in catering establishments, food stores and in the food industry.

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