We’ve all been in this confusing scenario: your milk in the fridge expires the day you want to use it. But is that its sell-by date? Best by? Use by? What does that expiration date really even mean?
All the confusion is one of the factors leading Americans to throw away about $640 worth of food every year, according to a survey out Wednesday from the American Chemistry Council.
Doug Rauch wants to change that number. As the former president of Trader Joe’s, he knows the ins and outs of the grocery world and just how much good food goes to waste in the current model.
“I knew from my experience we have an abundance of food and much of it is going to waste through inefficiencies through the fact that we all want the beauty queen produce and anything that’s ugly gets left in the field,” Rauch told ABC News. “So there’s a lot of opportunity to better utilize what we’re growing.”
At the end of his career with Trader Joe’s, Rauch decided to attend the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, a program for experienced leaders to take on new challenges in the social sector. That’s where he hatched the idea for Daily Table, a non-profit supermarket dedicated to not only reducing America’s food waste but also addressing the problem of one in six Americans being food insecure.
“At the lower economic rungs particularly, people are forced into bad decisions due to economics because calories are cheap and nutrients are expensive. The foundation of Daily Table was to try to figure out how on earth do we deliver to these one in six Americans an affordable, nutritious diet?” Rauch said. “And the obvious answer was, ‘Well, why don’t we try to utilize some of this excess food which we can get donated that’s perfectly wholesome and healthy?’”
Daily Table has now been open in Boston for two weeks, delivering fresh food that would have been otherwise been thrown away at extremely affordable prices.
A pound of apples, which at its cheapest sells for $1.59 on Fresh Direct, is $.49 per pound at Daily Table. A box of bran cereal at Daily Table is $.79, while the cheapest option (Kellogg’s All-Bran Complete Wheat Flakes Cereal) is more than four times the price at $4.69 from Fresh Direct. A dozen eggs go for $3.89 on Fresh Direct, while at Daily Table they are $1.29. And the list goes on.
How does Daily Table swing such cheap prices? Through donations and buying food that other supermarkets aren’t willing to purchase.
“We’re getting produce donated to us from suppliers that have excess product at the end of the day. For example, most grocers want bananas that are still green so they ripen at home for the customer. So if they’re starting to turn yellow, they won’t ship them to a grocer. If they can’t get rid of them, they’ll throw them in a dumpster. We’re able to collect bananas that are beautiful Chiquita bananas, but they’re one stage closer to ripeness. They’re not ripe yet, they’re just closer to ripeness.”
They do the same with other produce, and in some cases purchase the product that others aren’t willing to. Many grocers won’t accept packaged food less than six months away from its expiration date, according to Rauch, but Daily Table will, and at a much lower price since no one else is willing to buy it.
Despite accepting food others won’t, Daily Table is not endangering anyone. Expiration dates are not federally mandated, but each state does have its own requirements, and Daily Table does not break any state’s laws.
“There a massive amount of confusion on the customer end [regarding expiration dates], and no help whatsoever over when they should actually stop using something,” Rauch explained. “But the important thing to know is these dates are display code dates. They’re the dates when the product is at its very best, peak flavor. After, the flavor or quality may possibly start to degenerate over time but it’s not a food safety issue at all up to a certain point.”
This means that people who can’t afford fresh produce are able to for the first time.
“We had a lady walk in the store, look at the blackberries with almost tears in her eyes and say, ‘I’ve never been able to afford a blackberry in my life. Now my kids can try them,’” Rauch recounted. “That’s the sort of thing that gives us great satisfaction.”
Rauch said the community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive, and he hopes to bring the concept to other cities soon.