In Red River Co-op’s genesis, an unbought bag of buns would see the landfill.
Now, it’ll likely end up in the hands of a Manitoban in need. The co-operative announced its food waste reduction program Thursday, which connects community groups with foods nearing their best before dates.
“Too much still good-to-eat food was hitting compost and landfills,” said Kelly Romas, Red River Co-op’s marketing director.
Red River Co-op groceries have a “sell by” date. Items that’ve reached that date are removed from store shelves.
Instead of trashing products, employees place them in storage for partner groups to pick up during the day, Romas said.
The Leftovers Foundation collects food at Co-op’s five Winnipeg stores and delivers the goods to various organizations. The Bear Clan Patrol, 1JustCity and the Spence Neighbourhood Association are among the numerous receivers.
“The cost of food rising, it’s had a definite impact on people that have a limited or fixed budget,” said Brian Chrupalo, a Bear Clan director.
He said the neighbourhood group feeds an average 300 people daily at its Selkirk Avenue location. Sometimes, daily foot traffic hits 600.
The Bear Clan wouldn’t be able to provide food if it weren’t for donations like Red River Co-op’s, Chrupalo said. Costco and IGA are among other grocers to contribute.
Volunteers from the Leftovers Foundation take food from Red River Co-ops daily, according to Julia Kraemer, the non-profit’s only Winnipeg employee.
“Almost everybody needs more food,” Kraemer said. “What Co-op has done, to commit to (this initiative) on a daily basis… it keeps (our) program running.”
Leftovers Foundation takes nearly anything edible but not sellable. Often, products’ “sell by” dates precede their best before labels, according to Romas.
“While we know (the Leftovers Foundation) won’t solve food insecurity, it’s a form of harm reduction, getting food that needs to be eaten today to someone who needs to eat today,” Kraemer said.
The Leftovers Foundation collects over 9,000 kgs of food from Red River Co-op monthly, Kraemer said. Volunteers and donations are still needed, she added.
Co-op’s food waste reduction program has run for a year. The company wanted its program to take off before making an announcement, Romas said. Over 540,000 kg of food has avoided the landfill because of the initiative, Co-op stated.
At rural Co-ops — in Stonewall, Selkirk, Lorette and Gimli — farmers are connected with aging food via Loop, an organization working to reduce food waste.
Producers can use the food for animal feed.
“We’re sort of the backstop,” said Robin Bryan, Compost Winnipeg’s general manager.
Red River Co-op food not taken by the Leftovers Foundation or Loop goes to Compost Winnipeg, a social enterprise run through the Green Action Centre.
The composting group will take anything with an organic source — cheese, meat, animal bones, bakery items, food-soiled cardboard and more.
“When it comes to food waste reduction, particularly at grocery stores… the top of the pyramid is actually ensuring that as much of their product is eaten by people as possible,” Bryan said.
Still, Compost Winnipeg amassed 104,000 kg of Red River Co-op products in the first 10 months of service, Bryan said. It breaks down to an average 10,400 kg per month.
The food waste largely enters Prairie Green Landfill, where it’s composted and used in the landfill’s remediation process. Compost Winnipeg is working on a new partnership with a Morris facility which would turn products into soil Manitoban gardeners can purchase.
Retailers account for 12 per cent of Canada’s post-processing food waste, according to a 2019 Second Harvest report. Retail’s avoidable food waste loss totals $5.7 billion and 1.31 million tonnes, the report said.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.