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Baldor Foods Sustainability Director to CPG: Treat Food Waste as Asset, Not Liability

Meagan McGinnes

It’s time to throw out the word “waste” when talking about food, according to specialty products and produce distributor Baldor Specialty Foods.

In 2016, the New York-based company committed to becoming a zero waste facility within one year via their Fresh Cuts program, which partners with CPG companies, restaurants and farms to make human and animal food products out of ingredients that would normally have been disposed.

According to a report published by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), the U.S. spends $218 billion annually to grow, handle, deliver and dispose of food that is never eaten, meaning that roughly 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is thrown away. The cause of this waste ranges from consumer confusion over unclear date labels, to retailers culling produce displays to make them look more attractive.

Because of this lost revenue, food waste has been top of mind for many industry leaders. While some are looking to policy as a solution — the Food Recovery Act and Food Date Labeling Act are being considered for inclusion in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill — others, like Baldor Foods, are looking internally.

Thomas McQuillan, Baldor’s director of food service sales and sustainability, spoke with NOSH about how Baldor is tackling the issue, one carrot top at a time.

*The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Project NOSH: Describe Baldor’s Fresh Cut program and other sustainability initiatives?

Thomas McQuillan: Produce makes up about 75 percent of the food we distribute and specialty foods is about 25 percent. So we classify the fresh cuts production as part of our produce distribution. We process over a million pounds of produce per week of fresh produce and as a result of that production, we have approximately 150,000 pounds of food remaining. We embarked on a journey in 2016 to find a home for all this food. And in November of 2016 we succeeded in getting 100 percent of those food products to humans or animals.

One of the important components of this program was to change the narrative and change the way we talk about these food products. Historically, or within the last 40-30 years we looked at this byproduct as waste but we came up with the name called SPARCS — “scraps” spelled backwards — and in changing the name of all of this product, we are also no longer referring to it as something negative.

NOSH: Baldor partnered with Misfit Juicery and Haven’s Kitchen. What does that relationship look like?

TM: When we think about these produce items [SPARCS] individually, we think of solutions to them as an individual product as well. So a carrot tip, as an example, one day [we] thought wouldn’t that be great to juice it and turn it into carrot juice? So we collaborated with Misfit to test turning that into carrot juice and low and behold it worked just like a whole carrot.

In the case of Haven’s Kitchen, I challenged them to think about using our carrot peels. They came up with a carrot peel cookie that is absolutely delicious and something you can find there every day.

NOSH: Do you have any other partnerships with CPG brands?

TM: Right now we are in testing with one taking tomato tops and making a sauce out of them. But it’s interesting because we have to make sure they can produce that sauce in a way and a price point that it least covers their costs with their clientbase.

I would say we have had more luck working with the chefs than we have directly with CPG because with CPG there is a scaling issue. If they are making sauces or whatever they are making, often times they are done with a co-packer, and it tends to be very large quantities in a condensed time. We create this food everyday so we need partners who want it regularly, not every other week for a production cycle. A company like Misfit is doing runs once a week so we can do it with them, but a company needs to need that product regularly. It’s got to be part of a system.

NOSH: You also have a large premium and specialty packaged food business beside your produce business. How does food waste fit with that?

TM: It’s interesting because it doesn’t really fit in now. I hope at a point in time that it does become part of what we do. It is just about finding the right partners to create those solutions.

NOSH: Small brands sometimes feel overwhelmed with that’s on their to-do list. Why should they make food waste a priority?

TM: Let’s talk about all organizations managing all assets in general. You have a responsibility to treat all of those assets and get the greatest value from them. That includes your human resources, your food resources, your jars, your transportation; everything needs to be utilized to its fullest extent. Those are what we call sustainable initiatives. But in reality they are just smart business decisions. The two go hand in hand.

Anyone who is thinking of manufacturing or processing this kind of food needs to do a self study on how they manage their raw material through production, packaging and how they manage what they call waste. We [Baldor] are in a very complicated urban environment to move food around. If we found the solution then there is a solution for anywhere in this country.

NOSH: Where do consumers’ perceptions hinder or help goals of using food waste in CPG products?

TM: I think it is still in its beginning stages, but I do think the next generation is very concerned about it. There’s value to labeling those ingredients very clearly on the packaging to suggest that “we use food that would have otherwise been wasted.” You don’t want to call it food waste, but it’s important to tell the narrative about about how you used a food item that wasn’t being used in the past. People really enjoy thinking that they can be a part of a solution. And maybe that will inspire them to do something as well.

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