Reducing Food Waste Requires a More Connected and Sustainable Produce Industry
Food insecurity is one of the most urgent crises the world faces today – and finding solutions must be one of our most urgent priorities. The most recent Global Report on Food Crises revealed that 193 million people were acutely food insecure. Experts anticipate that figure to increase in the years ahead as climate change, global conflict, and economic shutdowns disrupt global supply chains.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The world’s growers produce enough food today to meet much of the world’s needs. The problem is that our food distribution system is fragmented and inefficient. What’s needed is investment in new systems and technologies that help to get more of that food to the right people and places at the right time.
Addressing Inefficiencies in the Produce Industry
Nowhere is this truer than in the $1.3 trillion global produce industry. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, as much as 40% of produce goes bad before it can be eaten. And that’s despite efforts to minimize waste by picking it early. Most apples, for example, are picked six to 12 months before they are finally consumed.
The produce that does make it to our plates gets there in a convoluted and pricey manner. The average produce item in the U.S. travels 1,600 miles before it’s consumed and was handled anywhere from four to eight times by middlemen. Candidly, this process adds little to no value for consumers – but it does result in a 3-6x price markup, something most families can ill afford in a food insecure world.
This distribution maze also creates a lack of transparency for growers and consumers alike. Every person on the planet deserves access to fresh, responsibly grown produce, and in an ideal world, this process would look completely different. We would know where our produce came from, how it was grown, what was put into it and who handled it.
Unlike commoditized crops like wheat and soy, fresh produce is not traded on a commodities exchange, making the industry opaque. As a result, the fresh produce industry has lacked transparency, much needed access to capital and real time pricing data, and a digital marketplace to exchange this information. The result: generations of growers and buyers who have had to operate their business around blind spots that make trust difficult and progress slow.
Demystifying the Supply Chain to Empower Buyers and Growers
Most of the existing innovation related to reducing food waste in produce has occurred at the genetic, seed and farming levels, where great work has been done. Yet much of food waste in produce occurs in the post-harvest side of the business. We can eliminate a significant amount of that waste and inefficiencies if we empower growers and buyers to share real time information in a transparent way.
Historically, growers have been at a disadvantage, with limited access to the end-buyers of their produce and other critical information they need to optimize their business, including visibility into what their buyers require of them as well as real time market data such as fair market pricing.
Buyers, in turn, do not have the resources to create total supply chain traceability or verify if the produce they are buying is being grown and harvested responsibly. This level of information is critical for buyers who are increasingly being held accountable to complex Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) requirements by investors, consumers, and regulators. And due to the disaggregated nature of the industry, buyers do not always actually know where their produce is coming from, creating challenges around meeting these ESG goals as well as food safety regulations.
Almost every other market in the world has been transformed by the internet into a digital marketplace where real-time digital information allows product to find its way cheaply, quickly and efficiently to consumers. It’s time to put this knowledge to work for the produce industry by investing in innovative solutions that help growers and buyers connect with each other and access the pricing data and operational insights they need to make sustainable business decisions.
If we can transform the fragmented produce industry into a connected and sustainable movement, we will be better equipped to eliminate food waste up- and downstream in the supply chain. Ultimately, these collective efforts can even help mitigate climate change and support a healthier world with more equitable access to fresh food for all.
Pablo Borquez Schwarzbeck is a fourth-generation farmer and the founder and CEO of, a digital ProducePay marketplace that is transforming the global produce market from a fragmented industry into a more connected and sustainable movement.