As we observe the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, it is important to recognize the role e-commerce can play in combating the growing paradox of mounting food insecurity alongside food waste. While food insecurity has been a critical challenge across the globe before the pandemic, COVID-19 is compounding the problem.
Here in the U.S., Feeding America reports that in 2018, 37 million people—11.5% of the population—were food insecure in 2018, meaning they lacked consistent access to enough food to live a healthy life. The number of affected people in the U.S. has soared since the pandemic started, with one in five households now reporting food insecurity. Food insecurity is growing across all age groups and the pandemic is creating new challenges to food access, including a growing number of children facing barriers to accessing free school meal programs and adults facing obstacles when trying to visit grocery stores amidst shrinking hours of public transportation.
The e-commerce food industry can help reverse this concerning trend by making healthy food more affordable and accessible. Here’s how.
Beyond Access – Affordability
Accessibility isn’t the only issue when it comes to food insecurity: healthy food needs to be affordable, not just available. This is especially true during COVID-19, with unemployment rates increasing more in the first three months of the pandemic than during the entire first two years of the Great Recession.
Just because people have access to healthier food doesn’t mean they can buy it. In May 2020, the journal Current Developments in Nutrition reported that the Salvation Army’s first non-profit grocery store, which opened in 2018 in Baltimore City, has so far failed to attract many customers. “The store averages just 140 customers daily and serves 500 unique families weekly, with an average transaction of $14,” write the authors. One of the reasons cited for this lack of interest according to the study respondents was the prices at the store were not perceived to be lower than at regular supermarkets.
An additional challenge is that there are more convenience stores and independent grocery stores in lower-income areas than full-service supermarkets—and the smaller stores tend to have higher prices. This means that people living in these communities actually pay more for their food than people living in more affluent areas.
How E-Commerce Can Help
Online grocery sales are booming. eMarketer forecasts that even though the spike will level out as people start to feel more comfortable shopping in stores again, online grocery retailers will have carved out “a more meaningful portion of the channel mix” by then.
With online grocery shopping on the rise, now is the perfect time for e-commerce businesses to help make food not only more available, but also more affordable to help reduce food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some ideas and initiatives to be inspired by.
Financial Help for Online Shopping
Some food-insecure families need to use food stamps to purchase groceries—so if they can’t get to the grocery store or the store is closed or running on limited hours during the pandemic, they’re stuck. To solve this problem, the USDA is piloting a purchasing program that lets SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients purchase groceries online.
Surplus Food Boxes
According to the companies’ Press Release, Flashfood and Tyson Innovation Lab developed a direct-to-consumer program called flashfoodbox, where consumers can have boxes of high-quality surplus food delivered right to their homes.
The tech startup Udelv provides autonomous delivery vehicles. With lower labor costs and more efficient route planning, driverless food deliveries will be affordable—or even free, says the founder.
Affordable Meals on the Fly
Meal delivery services sell meal kits or fully cooked food, and a major selling point for these companies is that their foods are healthy and fresh. Some meal delivery services offer free shipping, and a few even offer discounted or free foods for people in need.
Leveraging Surplus and Imperfect Foods
Food waste is a big problem—especially when businesses all along the food supply chain, from farmer to retailer, throw away good food that’s a surplus, cosmetically damaged or mislabeled. The company Imperfect Foods reduces waste and boosts access to fresh food by delivering “unattractive” food to consumers at attractive prices.
Lower Prices Through Business Insights
Food producers can streamline their business by knowing how much food they need to produce (and when)—cutting costs and allowing them to pass on savings to the customer through promotions. Updated data management tools can help food businesses reach increased efficiency.
E-Commerce Can Lead the Way
Since the coronavirus pandemic, we’re now looking at a doubling of the number of U.S. households that are affected by food insecurity. E-commerce businesses can help reverse the trend by creating revolutionary new initiatives that make healthy food more accessible and affordable. The burgeoning initiatives we discussed earlier are proof that it can be done—and we now have the technology to deliver savings to food-insecure customers, as well.
Look to these examples to determine opportunities to leverage e-commerce technologies to increase food access and affordability in your communities and beyond.
Founder and CEO of Crisp, Are Traasdahl has more than 20 years of experience in mobile and digital technology. Prior to Crisp, Are was the Founder & CEO of Tapad Inc. In 2016, Telenor Group acquired Tapad for $360M, making it the fifth largest venture-backed M&A exit in New York since 2009. Prior to Tapad, he founded Thumbplay, a mobile entertainment service that he grew to more than $100M in revenue in less than 3 years before he exited the company. The company, later acquired by Clear Channel, is now called iHeartRadio. Traasdahl is a frequent contributor for outlets such as CNBC and Bloomberg News, and he has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Ad Age and other major news publications. He was named Global Startup Awards™ Founder of the Year in 2016 and EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.