Supermarkets in Estonia seeking ways to reduce food waste

A previous Food Bank food drive in Tallinn.
A previous Food Bank food drive in Tallinn. Source: Hanna Samoson/ERR

Supermarkets are constantly seeking new ways to reduce food waste. While food rescue has yet to gain popularity in Estonia, it is predicted to gain traction as demand for it increases following the example set by Scandinavian countries.

Each year, grocery stores and supermarkets in Estonia throw away an estimated 20,000 tons of foodstuffs, accounting for some 12 percent of all food waste. Stores first and foremost blame this large quantity of waste on the fact that it's difficult to predict what and how much will be bought each week.

Stores have been marking down products approaching their sell-by or expiration date for years. This year, Rimi began tracking their products digitally, allowing a program to determine the size of discounts on products.

"What the percentage [discount] will be is no longer up to an employee, but rather will enter the smart system on the premise that a product will be sold at that percent [off], taking both stock as well as previous sales into account," explained Katrin Bats, head of corporate responsibility at Rimi Estonia.

Of food deemed unsuitable for sale at Rimi, half is donated to the Food Bank (Toidupank), while the other half is thrown away. Last year, Rimi donated a total of 1,329 tons of food to the Food Bank, 68 percent more than the previous year.

"Today we're donating half to the Food Bank," Bats said. "That hasn't always been the case, and over the years, I'm glad to say, these amounts have continued to increase."

Prisma declined to reveal the total amount of of food they throw away, but confirmed that they donated 205 tons of food to the Food Bank last year. The supermarket chain has a unified system in place for products with "best before" dates.

"Products with 'best before' dates that same day are marked down by 30 percent in the morning and by 60 percent already starting at 8 p.m. that night," said Prisma corporate responsibility director Kristiina Tamberg.

Food waste and food loss begins even before products reach stores, however, as retailers won't purchase products whose best before dates are too soon for them.

To combat food waste, two young people recently launched Sumena, an online store selling exclusively products quickly approaching or that have even surpassed their "best by" date and would otherwise end up thrown away.

"Absolutely nothing is typically done with these products, and we're now trying to rescue them so that all of these products approaching or having surpassed their 'best before' [dates] can reach end consumers for cheaper," explained Sumena COO Oliver Sebastian Lamp.

Sumena launched this summer, and its first three months of operations has already rescued 26 tons of food from waste. All products offered for sale have found buyers.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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