Food waste is becoming a bigger issue as traditionally big, bulk buyers — like college dorms and restaurant chains — suddenly stop receiving deliveries. As a result, millions of gallons of milk are being dumped, and farmers have no alternative but to turn fresh vegetables into mulch. Federal agencies are scrambling to keep up with the altering landscape by easing rules governing trucking, imports, agricultural visas and labeling requirements for restaurants and manufacturers.
“The way a client described it is they’re seeing a tsunami of demand shift from foodservice to food retail,” said Bahige El-Rayes, a partner who co-leads the consumer and retail practice at Kearney, a consulting firm. “If you’re a manufacturer today of food, it’s basically how do you adapt? How do you actually take what you sent to restaurants then sell it now to retail?”
New alliances are being formed as demand from restaurants dry up and consumers look for new ways of delivery. Kroger, the largest U.S. supermarket chain, has partnered with foodservice giants Sysco and U.S. Foods, which normally supply the restaurant industry and large institutions, to share labor and keep store shelves stocked.
The partnerships offer employment to foodservice workers that would otherwise be furloughed or laid off as a result of a near shutdown of the restaurant sector. It also provides much needed manpower to the overwhelmed food retail industry. Rewiring the U.S. food network, however, comes with logistical headaches.