And there is multi-billion opportunity to reduce it.

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What is food waste? The answer is troubling.

A recent study points out that there is no clear, commonly agreed upon definition of food waste in Canada. That means there is no objective or effective means of measuring food waste and its impacts.

But researchers and practitioners are making headway. Representing the food and beverage manufacturing sector, Provision Coalition partnered with NBS and commissioned a study to map the food waste challenge at a national level. Researchers at the Ivey Business School and Value Chain Management Centre took on that challenge. Now, the comprehensive results of their work are published in both English and French.

What is now known is that 40% of food in North America goes to waste. In Canada, this equates to $27 billion of food waste. As dismal as these figures sound, they are a critical starting point for tackling food waste issues in Canada. Taking a glass half-full approach, the figures indicate incredible opportunity for business to save and make money.

"This is a multi-billion dollar opportunity for the industry to come together, reduce food waste, improve efficiencies and start capitalizing on what is currently being sent to landfill and composting," explains Dr. Martin Gooch, CEO for Value Chain Management International and Lead Researcher for the study.

So what’s a manager to do? For starters, rethink packaging. Plastics, so often cast as the enemy, can extend shelf life for up to two weeks. Industry events like A Day in the Life (of a packaged product), presented by The Packaging Association (PAC), help professionals learn about and collaborate on packaging strategies from a lifecycle perspective.

Portion-controlled packaging kills two birds with one stone by helping reduce food waste and obesity. Educating consumers on best before dates and expiry dates is yet another route companies can take to help consumers – the largest contributors to food waste – reduce food waste.

The study points to abundant opportunities for businesses along food value chains to address and benefit from food waste reduction. Some of these opportunities were highlighted early on during the research project. Now it’s time for the business community to take those opportunities seriously. "[Food] waste is not a high priority for many businesses," notes Meena Hassanali, Industry Program Manager at Provision Coalition. "Many facilities don't realize how much food they're wasting and don't relate food waste back to other wasted resources such as the water and energy that went into growing, transporting, and processing that food."

For proactive companies that want to engage consumers in food waste reduction, there are a few insights to keep in mind. A company's CSR actions can inspire consumers to change their purchasing behaviour – that is, buy a different product/brand switch – pay a premium for responsible products or even deliberately punish companies that fail to meet their expectations. Taking a glass half-full approach to  messaging will increase the likelihood of consumers making a brand switch to your product. Research shows that people are more than twice as likely to choose a responsible product when marketing messages appeal to their sense of right rather than wrong.