Being proactive about eliminating food waste is more than just being a part of the mom approved “clean plate club”. Over the past decade, we have seen an alarming trend in the produce industry. Over one-third ($3 trillion) of usable produce is wasted each year because of visual defects. America is not immune to this problem either as we currently waste up to 40% of the produce we grow. Simple efficient business practices state that you should only manufacture enough products that you can sell on the open market. This practice of eliminating waste was made famous by the Toyota Production System and continues to be relevant today. So is it the growers fault for all this waste? Or is it a product of our culture? What can be done to control this trend?
Culturally, food waste has not been a problem until recently. The aging baby boomer population was brought up by parents who, for the most part, were instilled with depression era and war ration ideals about food. Generation X and millennials never had to deal with the scarcity of food items. Economists agree that when barriers on availability of free market items are reduced, either through price reduction or increased production, consumption increases. This was proven by a famous market research study titled, Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake. The study consisted of 54 participants being served soup from two different bowls. One group of participants was served using a normal bowl, while the other was served using a self-refilling bowl. The participants who were served using the self refilling bowl consumed 73% more soup, and did not believe they ate more than the control group. These results prove that increased availability of a product leads to increased consumption.
Not only is availability an important factor to consumption, visual quality of produce is significant as well. We have become far too superficial with the way our food looks. Try this exercise; picture in your mind what an apple looks like. Now go to a farmers market or even a farm and pick an apple from the tree. I bet the apple you imagined and the one you picked are vastly different. Our current food culture wants every product to be uniform and glossy, just like what you see on TV. This, combined with our biblical reliance on best by dates causes us to throw away food that is still usable.
Besides being part of the clean plate club, there are ways to reduce your own food waste. Here are three ways you can help. You may even save money in the process!
1.Plan out your weekly meals and use proper portion size. Prior to your grocery store trip, you should always plan out your meals and make a detailed shopping list. Technology is here to help as well. Check this link out for some apps that will help you in your meal planning.
2.Practice FIFO. This stands for first in and first out. When you put new produce in your refrigerator make sure to bring the old produce to the front as it will increase the likelihood that you will use it.
3.Designate one dinner to be a “use it all” meal. Instead of cooking a new meal try creating one with what you already have. This will force you to use everything you buy and in turn will make you a better cook.
Consumers are not the only ones that are helping reduce food waste. Many companies have made it their mission to reduce waste as it not only helps the environment it reduces operational costs as well. Our friends over at General Mills made it one of their goals to decrease their waste. As a result, they reduced overall waste by 48%, by making only one small change in production. They increased the temperature of their ovens at their frozen pizza plants, which allowed toppings to stick more effectively and reduce the amount that would fall on the floor. This change saved nearly 4,000 metric tons of wasted toppings.
Ham Farms and Produce is proud to be a leader in eliminating food waste. That is why we opened Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration, Yamco, and The Covington Vodka distillery right down the road from our produce headquarters. Now our off-sized and visually diverse sweet potatoes and other produce have a purpose in creating dehydrated and puréed vegetable products, as well as, the famous Covington Sweet Potato Vodka. In fact, we have saved over 28 million pounds of sweet potatoes from ending up in the landfill already this year. These three plants produce ingredients and end user products for bakeries, pet food companies, breweries/distilleries, and food manufacturers. Not only does it allow us to utilize 100% of the produce we grow, it gives us an extra revenue stream and allows us to positively contribute to the local community through job creation.
Since the early 1970’s, North Carolina has been the leading grower of sweet potatoes, producing over 50% of the nation’s crop. Our warm wet climate, as well as sandy soil, make North Carolina the perfect place to grow sweet potatoes. In fact, 96,000 acres of sweet potatoes were planted this year in the Tar Heel State. This is a 10% increase from 2015 and is 3 times more acreage than the next biggest producer, Mississippi. As production increases, so does the demand for sweet potatoes. Domestic consumption for sweet potatoes has almost doubled in the last decade. The USDA has reported that from 2000-2015 the average consumption of sweet potatoes has grown from 4.2 lbs to 7.5 lbs per capita. Experts believe that this growth in domestic consumption will continue to increase into 2016 and beyond. Demand has slightly outpaced producing, which has kept the price just under $25 per cwt. Even with the increase in acreage this year this trend will continue to hold true in 2016. There are three main factors that are driving the growth of sweet potatoes; the increased demand for locally grown produce, healthier meal options, and fresh/convenient options.
The National Restaurant Association put together a survey to try and understand what consumers are looking for in 2016. 77% of survey participants pointed to locally grown produce as a hot trend in 2016. This is the highest percentage in the entire produce category, in front of organic produce. In today’s information-driven world, consumers have the ability to research any product. Now more than ever, consumers want to know where their products are coming from. This is especially true for regions generally known for specific commodities (North Carolina Sweet Potatoes). Consumers point to these advantages of locally grown produce;
Many people do not realize that Cuba, despite its economic hardships, has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. This is because they harp on prevention rather than treatment. One of their “prevention” methods is eating a healthy diet, free of processed foods. This “food is medicine” movement is beginning to shape what families around the world are putting on their plate. In fact, the global sale of health food products (including produce) is projected to grow to $1 trillion in 2017. Take into account the fact that a forbes.com poll found that 88% of people are willing to pay more for healthier fresh foods and you can see how the sweet potato is in for a historic year. The humble sweet potato excels as a healthy food option. The health benefits of sweet potatoes are unmatched and are rich in Flavanoids, Carotenoids, Vitamin E, and Lycopene.
This makes the sweet potato a perfect replacement to other popular sides like white potatoes. Combine this with the fact that sweet potatoes have 1,000 x more Vitamin A and more Vitamin C than regular white potatoes and you can see why more and more families are filling their plates with this healthy vegetable.
Two large trends of convenience and healthy food options have recently created a new consumer category of healthy convenient foods.
This category is driven by the emerging spending power of the millennial generation. Most millennials grew up in a world of on demand service/technology and tend to eat more impulsively than other generations. They also tend to eat out more, but still want healthier food options. This is where the versatility of the sweet potato excels. New packaging options such as individually wrapped microwaveable sweet potatoes, microwaveable trays, and steamable bags have given the sweet potato the ability to be both healthy and convenient at the same time. China has already jumped on this trend, putting roasted pre packaged sweet potatoes in many of their countries gas stations.
In the past decade, the health benefits and versatility of the sweet potato have increased the demand for the vegetable as well as allowed it to follow global food trends. So what’s next for the sweet potato? Experts believe the demand for sweet potatoes will continue to grow beyond 2016. Consumers will continue to demand healthier and more convenient options of their favorite foods, fueling innovation in the processing as well as packaging side of the business.
The pet food industry has definitely evolved over the past 75 years. In what I like to call the barking thirties, wealthy American’s began to feed their pets dehydrated and canned pet food rather than just table scraps. Fast-forward to today, and the pet food industry has grown to a $60 billion market. Over the past 15 years, the human food and pet food industries have ‘fed’ off each other. The clean eating trend has trickled from humans to our four legged companions. Now we are seeing many pet food brands turn to local farmers to supply them with fresh meats and vegetables that they either chop up or dehydrate into cubes or pellets. This begs the question, what vegetables should my pet eat? The answer is simple: sweet potatoes. Here are three reasons why your dog should be eating sweet potatoes.
1.Healthy Carbohydrates- Dogs evolved from wolves, which are mainly carnivores and specifically designed to digest meat and bones. Only a portion of the wild wolves’ diet consists of plants, so it is important to choose a quality carb for your dog. Carbohydrates are often used as a binding agent in pet foods. The sweet potato is perfect for this role as it is the healthiest carb, binds other ingredients together, and gives your dog some important vitamins and nutrients in the process.
2.Amino Acids & Vitamins- Sweet potatoes are packed with healthy amino acids and essential vitamins and minerals. The number one cause of death in dogs is cancer. Nationally, nearly one in four dogs will get cancer in their lifetime. Cancer treatments start with prevention in dogs. Luckily sweet potatoes have amino acids that boast antioxidants, which are essential in preventing and treating cancer. These same amino acids, with the combination of the high concentration of Vitamins A & C in sweet potatoes, also promote healthy muscle development. As your dog ages, it is essential they receive enough of these vitamins to reduce the risk of early onset arthritis and hip dysplasia.
3. High Fiber Content- Bloat is a huge problem in dogs and can cause premature death. That is why it is important to feed your dog a high fiber diet. Fiber helps maintain a healthy digestive system and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria to aid in the breakdown of food. Dog food that uses unhealthy fillers that contain gluten often will cause inflammation of the stomach and may lead to a case of bloat. Luckily, sweet potatoes are high in fiber and free of gluten.
Many pet food companies have caught on with this trend and have included dehydrated or fresh sweet potatoes in their food. If you purchase any of these brands you are not only improving the health of your dog, but you are also promoting local farmers. Consider that one-third of produce, amounting to $3 trillion a year, is wasted because of visual defects. The pet food industry gives local farmers, like us, an outlet for produce that would end up being dumped back in the field. This is the exact reason why we opened Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration. Now our off-sized and visually diverse sweet potatoes have a purpose in creating human grade pet food. It’s time to get out of the doghouse and feed your dog sweet potatoes.