The Ongoing Saga Of Food Waste In Grocery: Standardized Food Date Labeling, Dynamic Pricing Could Save the Day

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We’ve known for quite some time that food waste is a growing global issue, impacting the world’s economy and environment. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that processing wasted food generates 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually worldwide. In the U.S. alone, up to 40% of the food produced ends up uneaten and tossed to the trash. The Natural Resources Defense Council tells us that the amount of food thrown away every year in the U.S. equals approximately 20 pounds of food per person, every month!

Sell By, Use By, And Expires On, Oh My!

Although there are several reasons why perfectly good food is thrown to the garbage every year, advocates believe that confusing food date labels are one of the major contributors to food waste. To combat this, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree have recently introduced the Food Date Labeling Act, which will standardize food date labeling in the U.S.

We’ve all been there as consumers. Many of the labels on food products include verbiage such as “sell by,” “use by,” and “expires on” — confusing us and often leaving us no choice but to toss out perfectly safe food for fear we might be endangering our families with spoiled food. The proposed legislation establishes a uniform national date labeling system to reduce said confusion, simplify regulatory compliance for companies and reduce the waste of food and money.


“Before taking a swig of milk, many Americans glance quickly at the date label and toss it away, without realizing that it still may be perfectly safe to consume,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “Items at the grocery store are stamped with a jumble of arbitrary food date labels. This dizzying patchwork confuses consumers, results in food waste and prevents good food from being donated to those who need it most.”

It is hoped that this proposed national date labeling system will educate consumers about the meaning of new labels and give them clarity on the actual expiration date of the food in their homes. A standardized system will also help consumers save money on their weekly or monthly grocery bills.

The Right Price At The Right Time

While advocates are working to resolve the issue of food waste at the federal level, many states have already acted to reduce their own amounts of food waste. According to research from Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have introduced over 80 unique bills to cut food waste in 2017 alone. As well, dozens of grocery retailers have also taken steps, with the help of technology, to eliminate food waste in their stores while also improving sales and margins. 

One such technology, dynamic pricing using electronic shelf labels, allows grocery retailers to strategically price perishable items throughout the day, encouraging shoppers to purchase those items before they spoil. By having the freedom to remotely change prices on any shelf in seconds, retailers can graduate pricing based on sales velocity and inventory levels to ensure they reduce waste by the end of the business day. What’s more, huge savings are made in paper and ink when replacing paper labels with electronic ones — not to mention the environmental impact of eliminating paper at the shelf edge.

Only time will tell how and when legislation for the Food Date Labeling Act will be finalized. The good news is that there is technology available, right now, to help shoppers make better decisions at the shelf edge and to help grocery retailers start chipping away at their food waste. After all, according to Dana Guners of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “The more food we keep out of the trash, the more trashed money, water, energy and climate pollution we can avoid. From farmers to parents, school children, and those in need — wasting less food helps everyone.”


Paul Milner is the Marketing Director for DisplaydataDisplaydata, the leader in the design and supply of fully graphic electronic shelf labels (ESLs). Milner is a senior retail marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience helping business-focused brands introduce new solutions and concepts to their markets. Prior to working with Displaydata, Milner served as the Enterprise Solutions Marketing Manager, EMEA, for Zebra Technologies. There he was responsible for developing and executing the company’s EMEA GTM strategy for retail. Milner has also held senior marketing roles with Motorola Solutions, Wincor Nixdorf, Canon Europe and Sharp Electronics.

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