Over the last five years, Denmark may have cut food waste faster than any other country. But hundreds of thousands of tons of food still end up in the trash each year. A new grocery store called Wefood is trying to help chip away at that number by selling only food that other supermarkets are throwing out.
"Wefood receives goods from supermarkets and shopkeepers who do not want to sell them anymore—mainly because they have passed the "best before" date," says Jutta Weinkouff from DanChurchAid, the nonprofit running the new store. "Best before" labels indicate when food might be tastiest, but don't mean that food isn't safe.
"Often, the product can easily be eaten after this date," she says. "It is legal to sell products that have passed this date, but the supermarkets do not. These items will be in Wefood." The store also stocks food in damaged packaging, and "ugly" produce.
It doesn't sell anything that might not be safe to eat. "There is no fresh meat, and no goods which have passed the 'last sales' date, used for foods with a relatively short shelf life—the date is an indication that the product may pose a health risk if eaten then," she says.
Major supermarket chains in Denmark are already stepping up efforts to throw out less food. A store called Dansk Supermarked, for example, is analyzing data to better understand what food is likely to stay on shelves too long, so they can order less of it. They're also trying to market foods more just before they expire. But there are still problems, like the "best before"-labeled food. So Dansk, along with another chain called Føtex, is now sending stock to Wefood.
"Of course, supermarkets want to sell as much as possible themselves, and they do what they can," says Weinkouff. "But they are very concerned with the best quality of their goods. If there are faults in the labeling of goods—if packaging is damaged or if the goods have passed 'best before,' shops will not sell them, and throw them out."
Wefood also gets donations from a fruit importer, a butcher, and a manufacturer of fruit and nut bars.
Like Daily Table, a similar nonprofit grocery store in the U.S. opened by the former president of Trader Joe's, Wefood has two goals: fighting food waste and hunger. Because the food was being thrown out by someone else, it's 30%-50% cheaper than at other stores—so it can go to low-income families who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
"Every day, almost 800 million people go to bed hungry, and at the same time 700,000 tonnes of food is thrown out in Denmark every year," Weinkouff says. "Some years ago a TV program focusing on food waste challenged a representative for one of the big supermarkets chains in Denmark which throws out food, and DanChurchAid, who’s fighting hunger and poverty worldwide." DanChurchAid took up the challenge, and after a successful crowdfunding campaign, opened its first store on February 22.
There were challenges, like figuring out how to work with regulations that required chains to pay taxes on the food they donated. "None of the supermarkets wanted to pay for donating food; they'd rather throw it out," she says. "Not to mention the administrative work." But Wefood worked out the issues, and now—if the new store is a success—they hope to use the same model to open more nonprofit stores around the country.