Denmark's newest grocer only sells unloved food
And the crowds can’t get enough!
Mislabeled products, damaged packaging, ugly produce, looming expiration dates – these are the things that send perfectly good supermarket food to the trash bin and add to the prodigious problem of food waste. In the United States we lose up to 40 percent of our food after it leaves the farm and the problem isn’t exclusive to the Land of Opportunity. France recently made it illegal for supermarkets to throw out unsold food – viva la France! – and now Denmark is jumping on the noble don’t-waste-food bandwagon with the launch of a novel new supermarket model, WeFood.
Danish supermarkets throw out 163,000 tons of food each year – things like treats for a past holiday, a ripped box of cornflakes, plain white rice mislabeled as basmati, or anything nearing its expiration date, writes Sidsel Overgaard for NPR. Items that are perfectly edible, but don’t pass the standards of what consumers expect from normal retailers. Which is where WeFood steps in – they are decidedly not a normal retailer. In fact, they are a non-profit run by volunteers; their profits go to help anti-poverty initiatives around the world. They collect surplus goods – from bread and produce to dairy and other groceries – and sell them 30 to 50 percent cheaper than regular supermarkets.
And unlike “social supermarkets" – grocers that predominantly sell surplus food to people in need – WeFood is meant for the general public; low-income, high-income and everyone inbetween.
"If you call it a 'social supermarket,' it's difficult to get customers to go there. Who wants to be poor?" explains Per Bjerre with DanChurchAid, the charity behind this initiative. "If you want to stop [the] waste of food, everybody has to be into it."
And how is that working out? Every day since the store opened in February, people have lined up on the sidewalk for a chance to buy previously unloved food. Bjerre says some of these surplus food die-hards are low-income people looking for a deal. But mostly, he says, they're here for more political reasons, Overgaard notes.
The runaway success has led to a surprising scenario. They run out of food almost every day.
"We are trying to get some emergency deliveries to the store, but right now, we have empty shelves," Bjerre told NPR.
Though not entirely for a lack of surplus food; they’re still ironing out the logistics of establishing pick-ups and donations, which Bjerre expects will get smoother as they “establish relationships and delivery patterns with local retailers.” And once that’s done, they hope to open more WeFood stores around the country. And if they manage to sell out of all 163,000 tons of surplus food? They could always start borrowing from us, we’ve got some 33 million tons heading to the landfill annually, someone might as well eat it.