Gourmet Products from Food Waste

Rethinking Food Management and Social Justice
  • Inés AlegreEmail author
  • Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent
Living reference work entry


Thousands of tons of food are wasted every day. Food can be discarded because it is out of date, it has lost some properties, excessive quantities are prepared at home, restaurants, or schools, etc. These causes are easily identifiable and are typically included in studies concerning food waste. However, there is one cause frequently ignored in food waste debates: the food that is left on the fields because its aesthetics do not conform to the market specifications in terms of size, weight, or color. This food is nutritious and perfectly suitable for consumption but it is excluded from the commercialization process. Espigoladors is a Spanish social enterprise that tackles precisely this issue. It collects the fruit and vegetables that are left on the fields and transforms them into high quality juices, creams, and jams. In addition, it creates more social value by employing people at social risk. This chapter presents the case of Espigoladors as a creative example of tackling an important societal issue and compels the readers to think about food management and social justice.


Waste management Sustainable food systems Misshapen food Social enterprise Sustainability Social justice Agriculture Espigoladors 


Sustainability is a broad term that, contrary to what one might expect, it is difficult to define in a single sentence. This term does not mean the same to each person. What is more, it might have different meanings depending on the context. To illustrate this point, we conducted an experiment. We wanted to know what people, aged between 18 and 24, think about sustainability. A survey was developed and responses from 112 undergraduate Business students were collected. We did not ask them for a definition, but instead, we requested them to indicate examples of sustainable habits they were already incorporating in their daily routines. Answers are shown in Table 1.
Table 1

List of sustainable habits of students

1. Reduce water consumption: Turn off the tap while cleaning the teeth, soaping, or cooking; take a shower instead of a bath; do not use the dishwasher and the washing machine until they are at their full capacity.

2. Reduce electricity consumption: Turn off the lights when leaving, take advantage of sunlight, turn off electronic devices when not used, make responsible use of air conditioning/heating, use led or low consumption bulbs.

3. Avoid the use of private transportation. Instead, walk to places, use public transport, or use alternative means of transportation that cause less pollution (e.g., bicycle), share vehicles, etc.

4. Do not throw food: Reuse it for another meal, give it another use (e.g., fertilizer).

5. Do not buy products that have contaminating containers (e.g., sprays, plastic bags) that cannot or are not that easy of being recycled.

6. Separate waste to be recycled.

7. Recycle: Give another use to old things, use paper on both sides.

8. Buy ecofriendly products.

9. Do not use fertilizers.

10. Do not smoke.

11. Do not soil the forest.

12. Do not cut trees.

Results speak for themselves. Sustainability means reducing the consumption of resources, but it also refers to reutilizing things, or avoiding the use of harmful products or raw materials that pollute and contaminate. But it is not that simple. Sustainability embraces different facets that need to be simultaneously considered in order to have the full picture of what it really means. Thus, following the well-accepted “three pillar interpretation” or the “triple bottom line,” we can define sustainability as the simultaneous pursuit of environmental quality , social equity, and economic prosperity (Klöpffer and Ciroth 2011; Balakrishnan et al. 2003). That is, sustainability encompasses ecological, personal, and economic interests, which, taken together, contribute to improving the planet.

The terms sustainability and sustainable development were first coined in 1983. It was not until 1987 when the Brundtland Report (Brundtland Commission 1987) settled the fundamentals and defined it as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” According to this definition, the essence of sustainable development is pleasing fundamental human needs while preserving the life-support systems of planet. This principle implies using resources at rates that do not exceed the Earth’s capacity to replace them (Godfray et al. 2010).

Recently, sustainability has also been considered as a form of innovation (e.g., Boons and Lüdeke-Freund 2013; Schaltegger et al. 2012; Schaltegger and Wagner 2011). Increasingly, firms are introducing practices in which waste is used as a raw material for new products or applications (Mirabella et al. 2014), leading to the emergence of concepts such as “cradle to cradle, ” “circular economy, ” and “zero waste economy. ” Sustainable resource management is thus grounded on the notion that “waste” can be turned out into a “resource.” However, despite several initiatives and policies have been implemented, both academics and practitioners lament the fact that companies are introducing sustainability practices as a way to cut operating costs, rather than for a deeper commitment to the environment.

In this book chapter, we explore sustainability in the food industry. We first have an overview of all the actors that play a role in the food supply chain with a special focus on food waste, then we present initiatives that have taken place around the world to fight against food waste. Finally, we present the case of Espigoladors, a company that reduces food waste in an innovative and interesting manner. At the end of the chapter, several reflection questions and practical exercises are proposed.

Sustainability in the Food Industry

Food waste is generated throughout all the stages of production and consumption. About 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year ( At the same time, almost 1 billion people go undernourished, and another 1 billion is starving. This is the era of paradoxes: while a growing number of countries are dealing with overconsumption of food, a significant proportion of the world’s population is suffering from food scarcity. In this context, a key question emerges: How can food waste/surplus be managed more sustainably?

According to the report published by the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute (Stenmarck et al. 2016), countries in the EU-28 generate 88 million tons of food waste each year. This amount equates to 173 kilograms of food waste per person, being the household the sector that contributes the most to food waste (circa 50%). Said differently, food management has implications alongside the entire supply chain, starting with the farmer, moving through the food processing, and finishing with the final consumer (Papargyropoulou et al. 2014; Parfitt et al. 2010).

In order to better understand how food is managed, it is necessary to examine the different steps and stakeholders involved in the food supply chain and understand its main challenges and opportunities. Let’s start analyzing the farmer, that is, the agricultural sector. Here, the main challenge lies on how to produce more food without damaging the environment. Indeed, the projected global food demand by 2050 is expected to increase by 70% (Godfray et al. 2010). In order to meet demand, food supply has to increase. Three strategies can help increase food supply: (i) either more food is produced in the same area of land, making the land more productive; (ii) same food is produced per area, but less energy is consumed to produce it; and (iii) less food is wasted at this stage.

To produce more food from the same area of land, alternative farming methods have to be developed. The new techniques can focus on the way fields are cultivated and propose new methods of organizing the crops or retaining and improving the soil; or can focus on the seeds, trying to develop high-production seeds, sometimes through natural methods, others through genetic modifications, a technique that has been largely criticized.

To produce the same with a lower energy consumption is another alternative to increase food supply, assuming that the energy saved is used to grow more food in other fields. Energy includes electricity and fuel but mainly water, which is the most prominent resource used in agriculture. Sustainable agriculture practices are being developed, most of them based on the use of renewable energy sources. In this respect, new policies and incentive schemes are required if we are to meet the demands without compromising environmental integrity or public health (Tilman et al. 2002).

Finally, reducing food waste at this stage is also a way to increase food supply; the objective would be 100% harvesting efficiency. This means that no edible food is left on the fields after harvesting, something that does not occur nowadays. In fields that are manually harvested, a relevant amount of food is currently left on the fields due to aesthetic reasons, the food is perfectly suitable for consumption but is misshapen and does not conform to market specifications in terms of size, color, or weight. In fields that are harvested with machines, a significant portion of food is left on the fields due to not having the appropriate technologies to harvest to the full potential. Technical developments can improve the latter, but not the former, which is precisely what the business case presented in this chapter is concerned with.

Sustainable and at the same time efficient agricultural techniques receive public institutional support in some countries, that put high taxes on inefficient food production and no taxes on efficient and sustainable food production (Goodland 1997).

From the side of food processing companies, that is, the intermediary between the farmer and the shops, two challenges arise. One is internal as is common in all industries: efficiency. That is, reducing costs, including food waste and energy consumption, while increasing production maintaining quality and ensuring safety. The other is external and comes from a societal claim: transparency. Food processing companies are more and more under the scrutiny of society that demands more information on the food they consume. Information about the ingredient, but also about the origin of the food and properties such as the pesticides used in its farming are expected to be clearly communicated. To that end, food processing companies might benefit from better labeling each type of product, including livestock, to reflect all its characteristics (Tilman et al. 2002). This way consumers would have available relevant information that would allow them choosing between alternative food products.

Food processing companies supply and distribute their products to grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and other type of catering services like schools or hospitals. These organizations have the challenge to correctly predict demand in order to adapt their orders and avoid buying more food than necessary. And have also a tremendous responsibility of avoiding food waste. A recent study has shown that food waste in UK restaurants approximately costs 23% of their turnover (Papargyropoulou et al. 2014). In addition, this food surplus is left in landfills. Due to the natural decomposition process, methane and carbon dioxide are produced. Both gases contribute to climate change. It is estimated that in Europe, the food sector is causing approximately 22% of the global warming problem.

At the end of the food supply chain are consumers. Individual consumers have many responsibilities concerning food sustainability and in particular on reducing food waste. First, consumers are continuously taking decisions about what food to buy and to which supplier. By taking conscious decisions, consumers can influence the way food processing companies act. Second, consumers are responsible for what they buy, and they should buy only what is necessary and is going to be consumed. If not consuming it, consumers should find alternative ways of reusing surpluses. Tons of foods are thrown away because they are no longer wanted or have passed its best. This is avoidable food waste . Finally, another path to follow in order to be more protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems is one of sustainable diets . According to Alsaffar (2016), sustainable diets promote a healthy life for present and future generations. They contribute to food and nutrition security while having a low environmental impact. The Mediterranean diet is an example of this. It has a high intake of plant-derived foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and cereals. On the contrary, meat consumption is reduced. Plant- or grain-based diets are more sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment (Sabaté and Soret 2014).

An effective implementation of all these practices will require coordination among federal agencies, ministries, local administrations, and businesses, which often tend to have different objectives. “The goal is no longer simply to maximize productivity, but to optimize across a far more complex landscape of production, environmental, and social justice outcomes” (Godfray et al. 2010: 817). Indeed, food management is a complex process that has to be viewed in an integrated manner, taking into account all actors at all levels of the food supply chain. As we have outlined above, each of these stakeholders has its own interests and challenges derived from their distinct business activity; however, there is something in common to all of them, the ability to reduce food waste. Reducing food waste has enormous potential, not only because we are minimizing the resources employed to produce the food we eat and lower the environmental impact, but also because by being more efficient we can also save money. Being respectful with the environment is not detrimental to individual interests. Food waste is a poor use of current resources and is socially, ethically, economically, and environmentally detrimental.

Analyzing The Food Supply Chain: Where Is Food Wasted?

Quantifying global food waste is challenging. Information is scarce and reports assessing food waste have to rely on limited datasets obtained across different stages of the food value chain, and later, extrapolated to the larger picture (Parfitt et al. 2010). Despite these limitations, several estimates have been made. According to Grandhi and Singh (2016), approximately 1.3 billion tons of the total food produced for human consumption never reaches the human stomach. Where is thus all this amount of food lost?

Avoidable food waste takes place at the different stages of the food value chain (Bagherzadeh et al. 2014): during production or immediately after harvesting on the farm; after produce leaves the farm for handling, storage, and transport; during industrial or domestic processing and/or packaging; during distribution to markets, including losses at wholesale and retail markets; and finally at consumption, including the home or business of the consumer (including restaurants, caterers, etc.). Table 2 shows some examples of how food loss and waste can occur at each of these stages.
Table 2

Examples of food loss and waste at the different stages of the food value chain (Adapted from Lipinski et al. (2013))


Handling and storage

Processing and packaging

Distribution and market


Fruits bruised during picking or threshing

Crops sorted out post-harvest for not meeting quality standards

Crops left behind in fields due to poor mechanical harvesting or sharp drops in prices

Fruit that is uneconomical to harvest

Fish discarded during fishing operations

Leave food in the field in response to either market forces or weather/pest-related damage

Edible food eaten by pests

Edible produce degraded by fungus or disease

Livestock death during transport to slaughter or not accepted for slaughter

Fish that are spilled or degraded after landing

Milk spilled during pasteurization and processing

Edible fruit or grains sorted out as not suitable for processing

Livestock trimming during slaughtering and industrial processing

Poor order forecasting and inefficient factory processes

Fish spilled or damaged during canning/smoking

Edible produce sorted out due to quality (non-compliant with aesthetic)

Edible products expired before being purchased (“best before” and “use-by” dates)

Edible products spilled or damaged in market

Edible products sorted out due to quality

Food purchased but not eaten

Food cocked but not eaten

There are several sources of inefficiency conducive to food waste. These sources are mainly due to financial, managerial, and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage, and cooling facilities. Indeed, the lack of financial resources has been signaled as one of the main reasons leading to significant inefficiencies in food management and treatment. From the viewpoint of the stakeholders involved in the early stages of the food value chain, financial resources are critical in the sense that, in case of being limited, the logistics and infrastructures needed to preserve and transport the raw material without altering the original attributes becomes difficult to manage.

There are, however, other sources of inefficiency. One of these relates to information asymmetries (Kouwenhoven et al. 2012). A fragmented supply base, the absence of proper communication channels among the different stakeholders and a misalignment of incentives, conduces to reactive value chains that, far from identifying common areas for improvement in order to develop a more sustainable food system, seek for individual benefits that very frequently end up in system inefficiencies. Another critical factor is the fast-changing consumption patterns. Producers and suppliers have little time to adjust their production to the demand. This higher demand uncertainty requires flexibility and innovation in the food value chain.

From farm to fork, almost one-third of all the food produced is lost (Göbel et al. 2015). Although the percentages might vary across countries, there is a common pattern. In developed countries, 24% of global food loss and waste occurs at the production, another 24% during handling and storage, and the largest percentage, approximately 35%, takes place at the final consumer level (Lipinski et al. 2013). These figures mean that approximately 35–40% of the food that arrives at the consumption stage is thrown away (Nahman and de Lange 2013). Consumers seem, however, not to be completely aware of this situation. In a consumer-driven society with increased households and an illusion of abundance, buying decisions are influenced by aggressive discounts and special offers, which result in consumers’ tendency to overbuy (Stuart 2009). Food is thrown away in small quantities, and there is a widespread sentiment that wastage is an inevitable part of consumption. In this respect, consumer education is essential to address this issue. Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for exactly knowing how much food is wasted and its associated cost. According to a study conducted by Gunders (2012), American families throw out 25% of the food and beverages they buy, with an estimated cost for an average family of four that ranges from $1,365 to $2,275 annually.

Implications of food waste are not only at the household level. From a social and environmental perspective, food waste has devastating consequences. First, all the edible food discarded signals that if properly managed it could have been used to feed those in need. Second, organic decomposition at landfills or incineration originates smokes and substances that pollute the planet. Third, efforts employed to produce, manipulate, and distribute the food that ends up going to waste, entails the consumption of natural resources (e.g., land, energy, water, etc.). Furthermore, a recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO 2013) reported that all the food that is produced but not eaten is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tons of unnecessary greenhouse gases to the planet’s atmosphere.

According to the OECD report (Bagherzadeh et al. 2014), practices to minimize food waste in developing countries should be directed toward improving the initial stages of the value chain, while in most developed regions or urban areas the strategy should be focused on stages “close to the fork.”

In this setting, policymakers and nongovernmental agents should adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and, in order to minimize food waste, convert an altruistic effort into a profitable business (Grandhi and Singh 2016). Indeed entrepreneurs play a key role in this process (Kouwenhoven et al. 2012), bringing new inventions that fight against value chain inefficiencies, increase food availability, and alleviate poverty. Table 3 suggests some possible approaches for reducing food waste.
Table 3

Approaches for reducing food waste at the different stages of the food value chain. Adapted from Lipinski et al. (2013)


Handling and storage

Processing and packaging

Distribution and market


Facilitate donation of unmarketable crops

Improve access to low-cost handling and storage technologies

Re-engineer manufacturing processes

Facilitate increased donation of unsold goods

Facilitate increased donation of unsold goods from restaurants and caterers

Improve availability of agricultural extension services

Improve ethylene and microbial management of food in store

Improve supply chain management

Change food date labeling practices

Conduct consumer education campaigns

Improve market access

Introduce low-carbon refrigeration

Improve packaging to keep food fresher for longer

Change in-store promotions

Reduce portion sizes

Improve harvesting techniques

Improve infrastructure

Packaging food into small packs and loose items wherever possible


Follow the recommendations on how to store fresh food

Next section describes some entrepreneurial initiatives that illustrate how to overcome some situations leading to food waste.

Worldwide Initiatives That Fight against Food Waste

Following the interest and concerns of the last decade about sustainability, initiatives to improve food management sustainability, and in particular, to reduce food waste, have flourished all around the world. Below we describe several innovative actions taken by different actors in the food supply chain and in different countries, all with the same objective of reducing food waste, therefore, improving food management efficiency.

Hotels and Restaurants

People tend to leave food when they eat out. Hotels, restaurants, pubs, and bars generate thousands of tons of food waste per year. This food waste is made up of things like peelings and inedible by-products (e.g., bones, coffee grounds, tea leaves) but the majority is perfectly good food. Waste is also generated due to kitchen errors, or because of spoiled or out-of-date food. Likewise, when eating more than one course, the likelihood of leaving part of the main dish is high, as people also want to eat a starter or a dessert. Plate fillers like salads, vegetables, or chips are the most likely to remain uneaten.

What can be done to reduce food waste while keeping customers satisfied? Several initiatives include menus with greater flexibility and personalization. That is, menus with different portions sizes (consumers pay according to the size) or menus where customers can choose the plate filler they prefer. It is important being flexible on customers’ request concerning some ingredients so that restaurants ensure consumers do not receive food they would not finish. Doggy bags are another alternative. Increasingly, restaurants are offering the possibility to ask for a container to take leftovers home. This is already quite common in some countries, but very rare and not culturally acceptable in others. By taking action in some of these directions, we can contribute to reduce food waste and have clean plates at the end of a meal out.

Action is well underway in the food and hospitality sector. Some organizations, such as Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) in the UK, have led successful initiatives by involving several societal actors including institutions, city authorities, and businesses. In particular, dozens of organizations signed up WRAP’s voluntary agreement on food waste reduction in 2015. In 2017, a follow-up evaluation was done showing that, among the different actions undertaken, 555,000 tons of CO2e have been saved from food and packaging waste. Another outstanding achievement is the one arising from the Hospitality and Food Service agreement, which has reported business savings of £67 million.

Similarly, large companies such as Unilever are also committed to reduce food waste. In this respect, Unilever launched an app that helps businesses operating in the food sector to track food waste generation ( By identifying what kinds of food are being wasted, companies are more likely to introduce mechanisms to reduce this waste. Information is a key point here as many hotels and restaurants do not really know how much food are they wasting and what is the real cost of that. This is the objective of some new companies that have developed applications to solve that issue. One example of this is Winnow (, a firm created in 2013 in the UK that uses cutting-edge technology to monitor and record exactly how food is being wasted. The technology consists of a smart meter technology attached to the food waste bin. Staff use a touchscreen that records all the steps. In just a few seconds it is possible to identify the type of food thrown away and at what stage. Daily reports are sent pinpointing key opportunities to cut waste, benchmark multiple sites, and track performance. Based on the statistics Winnow has recorded, customers can save up to 3–8% of their costs using this system, which translates in an expected ROI that ranges between to 2x to 10x. In 2015, Winnow opened a regional office in Singapore to lead the food waste revolution in the Asia Pacific region. A similar system is the one developed by MintScraps ( Starting at NYC’s BigApps 2013 competition, MintScraps is an American firm that uses an online platform to empower restaurants to track and reduce their waste. As it is advertised in the website, “by implementing new waste management solutions, restaurants and food service businesses can have a better understanding of their waste, uncover cost savings, and support sustainability initiatives.” Relying on analytics and online technologies the system developed by MintScraps graphically illustrates what is being wasted and the associated cost in a quick and easy manner. Thus, while getting an idea of how much money restaurants are losing MintScraps contributes to change bad business practices and increase productivity. This technology identifies and prevents avoidable food waste.

Although the two aforementioned examples help reduce food waste in hotels and restaurants, consumer leftovers are difficult to avoid. In that respect, Resq Club ( is a Finnish startup that in 2016 launched its services in Sweden, enabling customers to “rescue” surplus food portions from restaurants in Stockholm, Göteborg, and Malmö. The system works as follows. Through an app, customers can make their orders and decide from which restaurant they want to pick up the leftovers. Portions are typically sold with a discount that ranges between 40% and70%. The service has gained popularity and it has more than 200 active partners (including restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and hotels) and over 17,000 registered users.

Supermarkets and Retailers

At the end of a day, in supermarkets and groceries, there are many products that are not consumed and are about to expire but are still in good conditions. It is important to differentiate the sell-by date and the use-by date. While the use-by date specifies the recommended date by which the product should be used or consumed, the former indicates that although the sell-by date passes, the food is still safe to eat. However, many people still think that they have to toss it. Similarly, supermarkets and grocery stores might decide to throw it away because the sell-by date is approaching.

Aiming at fighting against food waste, there are several startups working to reclaim out of date food. One example is the German startup FoodLoop ( A retailers’ platform that ties grocer inventory system to consumer-facing mobile apps to provide real-time deals and personalized offers based on consumers’ interests, purchase history, and location. Using the app, customers can receive discount offers on products that are about to expire in the supermarkets or small shops. The Italian app, Last Minute Sotto Casa (, has a similar purpose and functioning. When there is a product about to expire or when there is an excess of food that it is likely to remain unsold, the owner of the grocery or supermarket posts a discounted offer in the app. Customers receive a notification when a new offer is posted. If sound, they can buy it through the app and then go to the shop to pick up what they have purchased.

Some start-ups have expanded this service and gone a step further by allowing individuals and household to exchange for free and/or sell their leftovers. Olio ( is a free app developed in 2015 in the UK that allows users to snap photos of spare food with a brief description. The app incorporates an instant messenger that allows users to arrange a pick-up. According to their website, one of the things users value most of this app is the opportunity to meet neighbors and exchange food with them. In two years, the app has been downloaded 85,000 times, redistributing more than 125,000 items. Also from the UK, The Real Junk Food Project ( collects food surpluses (either from individuals or supermarkets) that are in perfect conditions. Starting in 2013, their business model consists in taking all this food to a bar, cook it, and transform it into a delicious meal. Customers can go to the bar and pay what they believe this meal would cost. If someone cannot afford anything in exchange, they can help with the cleaning or collaborate with anything they can bring.

Other endeavors that fight against food waste are those programs where suppliers (supermarkets, households, restaurants etc.) offer discounts for products that are going to expire, do not meet standards of beauty, or have not been sold out and there are large amounts. Some Finish start-ups that fall within this category are From Waste to Taste ( and Froodly ( In the USA, Food Cowboy ( and Spolier Alert ( also help food businesses manage their unsold inventory.

Food for the Needy

Within this category, we can include those organizations that allow individuals, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, and any other type of donors to give surplus food to needy people such as homeless, social dining rooms, or new arrivals. This task is possible thanks to a group of volunteers, who go after this food and help in distributing it correctly. Table 4 summarizes some of these initiatives.
Table 4

Some examples of organizations whose aim is to donate food to the needy while reducing food waste




Funding year



Collects quality food surpluses from more than 2,000 commercial outlets (e.g., fruit and vegetable markets, supermarkets, hotels, wholesalers, farmers) and deliver it, directly and free of charge, to more than 900 charities.



Second bite

Redistributes high-quality surplus fresh food to the homeless, women and families in crisis, youth at risk, indigenous communities, asylum seekers, and new arrivals. Food is donated by farmers, wholesalers, markets, supermarkets, caterers, and events.



Zero percent

An app that allows restaurants and shops make lists of leftover foods, which are sent to food pantries and social dining rooms. The organization is responsible for the collection and delivery of food.



Feeding India

App in which users can post warnings whenever they have food to give. Volunteers go after it to bring it to poor families, orphanages, nursing homes, or shelters. Food is also collected from restaurants, hostels, and companies.



412 FoodRescue

Collects food that is not sold by retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, caterers, and universities among others, and is later delivered to organizations that need food surpluses.


Other Food Waste Related Initiatives

What to do with large amounts of food surpluses? Love Food Hate Waste ( can help you reduce your food waste. This initiative aims to raise food waste awareness by giving us some suggestion on how to start taking action. The website includes easy practical everyday suggestions, recipes, and articles that show users how to waste less food while saving money.

Do “ugly” products taste bad? The answer is no. Nevertheless, an odd physic appearance might prevent people to buy food that does not look as “perfect” as it should. Misshapen products are thus difficult to be sold out. Imperfect ( is a mission-driven start-up that operates in the Bay Area (San Francisco) and Los Angeles. It is a home produce delivery service focused on finding “a home” for these misshapen fruits and veggies. Discounts can reach 30–50% of the original price. The business model also generates extra revenue to California farmers. Hungry Harvest ( is another solution that sells ugly fruit and veggies at a reduced price. In addition, for every harvest they deliver, 2 pounds are donated to help feed someone in need. It has only been two years since they started and they have already reduced 2 million pounds of food from going to the landfill and donated almost 450,000 lbs to people in need. They are currently operating in Maryland, DC, Northern Virginia, Philly, and South Jersey.

Is it possible to transform food surpluses into another product? For sure! Some food is thrown away because the offer exceeds the demand or because it cannot be sold out as it has expired. WiSErg ( transforms food scraps and food surpluses into organic fertilizer (e.g., landfills, composters, and digesters). The process starts by placing WISErg Harvesters at food service facilities. This machine ingests and processes food scraps in an odorless, pest-free, self-contained system. During the transformation process, the Harvester captures and stabilizes valuable nutrients from the food scraps. The resulting material is transported to a nearby WISErg facility, where it is processed into liquid fertilizer. Similarly, Re-Nuble (, a social enterprise founded in 2011, creates an organic, nontoxic, liquid nutrient for hydroponic growers and traditional gardeners as an affordable and effective alternative to chemicals. This product can be later used to cultivate new products.

Case Study: Espigoladors

There are fruits and vegetables that grow imperfect and delicious. Espigoladors ( is a nonprofit organization located in Barcelona , Spain, whose objective is to fight against food waste and empower people at social risk in a transformative, participative, inclusive, and sustainable way. In particular, Espigoladors sends volunteers into the fields to pick leftover produce for distribution to the vulnerable and unemployed. Volunteers are individuals, but also companies and other type of organizations. Very frequently, the same vulnerable and unemployed that receive the fresh fruit and vegetables also go into the fields themselves to help in the picking. With all the fruit and vegetables picked, Espigoladors gives 90% to nonprofit organizations that distribute the fresh food among their beneficiaries, the other 10% is processed by the four full-time Espigoladors’ employees that transform it into high-quality juices, sauces, creams, and jams, that are later sold under the brand Imperfect. The project has multiple benefits for all its stakeholders. Volunteers enjoy a day in the fields doing a different activity that, in addition to be enjoyable, is going to help people in need. On top of the social intrinsic reward involved in volunteering in such type of activity, volunteers also increase their awareness about food waste. Nonprofit organizations receive the fresh product from Espigoladors and later distribute them among their beneficiaries. For the nonprofit organization, to be supplied by Espigoladors is a great opportunity as obtaining fresh fruit and vegetables is not straightforward for this type of organizations that are more accustomed to deal with canned food as it can be stored for longer periods of time and is therefore less demand dependable. For people at risk of social exclusion, in addition to receiving fresh food through nonprofits, there is the possibility to participate as volunteers in the fruit picking. This is a great opportunity for them to mingle with other people, do a new activity, and feel useful and empowered which has a tremendous positive psychological impact on them.

Fruit and vegetables are left on the fields because of several reasons. In occasions, producers generate some surplus that they do not manage to sell, in other cases, fruit and vegetables do not have the adequate size, color, or shape to be accepted by sellers. Those misshapen products are perfectly healthy and tasty but their physical appearance works against them. Potatoes too big, broken carrots, bananas with black spots, or a curvy cucumber do not fit with grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards.

The word espigoladors means gleaner in Catalan, the mother tongue of Mireia Barba, the founder. Gleaners are the people in charge to glean the fields, that is, to collect what was left over in the fields once the main harvesting was finished. This activity was very frequent in the nineteenth century but had progressively disappeared until being nearly unknown nowadays.

Mireia Barba, Espigoladors’ founder, was grown in Gelida, a 7,000 inhabitants’ town on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain. There she observed how the delicious misshapen lemons of his grandfathers’ garden could not be found in the local supermarket. She obtained a double degree in business and social work. In 2013, a project started by her daughters’ primary school teacher in order to raise awareness among children about the importance of not throwing away food, kept Mireia thinking about the issue. She visited several organizations that dealt with the issue of food waste and food needs including nonprofits, governmental initiatives, and community kitchens for the underprivileged. She observed that some supermarkets or grocery stores threw food that was about to expire, but still in good conditions, including ripen fruit and vegetables. At the same time, some people were picking what was left over on garbage containers around the city. With the idea that food in good conditions must not be spoiled in the field if it can be of profit, in 2014, Mireia Barba, together with two colleagues: Jordi Bruna, a financial analyst, and Marina Pons, an expert in communication, funded Espigoladors. Espigoladors philosophy is that of 0% waste.

Espigoladors had a very good social response from the beginning. The initiative has won many prizes and has received numerous support, both in financial terms through grants and prizes but also in social terms, being able to create a strong network of supporters and advisors. The advisory team now includes famous cookers as well as business school professors, government representatives, and leaders of nonprofit organizations.

Espigoladors project aims to respond to three social needs:
  1. 1.

    Food waste: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets lost or wasted. This accounts for approximately 1.3 billion tones. Fruit and vegetables have the highest wastage rate, with around 45% of losses. Losses occur all along the food value chain. In Europe and North America, per capita food losses are approximately 280 kg of food per year. In Catalonia region, which is the area of influence of Espigoladors, 700,000 tons per year are squandered.

  2. 2.

    Work opportunities for underprivileged people: The Statistics Bureau of the European Union, EUROSTAT, calculated that, in Europe, 23% of the population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In some countries, the unemployment rate is also very high, this is the case of Spain, where Espigoladors is located, a country with a 20% unemployment rate in 2014, the year in which the company was created.

  3. 3.

    Access to healthy and fresh food: 17% of the adult Spanish population is obese. This percentage is over 30% for the USA. Obesity is directly related to food consumption and particularly to low consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables that have been substituted by high calories processed aliments.

And does so with a business plan that relies on three main activities
  1. 1.

    Picking: Creating agreements with companies, grocery-stores, and producers. In the case of producers, Espigoladors guarantees that with a 24 to 48 h prior notice from the producer, a team of gleaners will be in the field ready to pick up what has been left. For supermarkets and grocery stores, Espigoladors commits to pick up whatever the store is going to throw away.

  2. 2.

    Donation: Espigoladors will donate 90% of the products picked to social organizations. Particularly to community kitchens and nonprofit organizations in that act in the area of food waste and food provision for the underprivileged.

  3. 3.

    Transformation: 10% of the fruit and vegetables will be processed under the im-perfect brand and sold. This part of the business plan is critical, as is the one that provides revenues to economically sustain the rest of the operations. Although the vegetables are given to Espigoladors for free, the company has some associated costs like transportation, processing, and overhead.


Throughout its value chain of picking-donation-transformation, Espigoladors wants to raise social awareness about food waste and to, whenever possible, include people at risk of social exclusion to actively participate in the project either as volunteers in the picking or as employees in the transport and transformation part of the process.

Espigoladors is still a small company with a very local impact, on average, Espigoladors picks around 50,000 kg of fruit and vegetables annually with a team of 6 people full time and approximately 60 volunteers.

Reflection Questions

  1. 1.
    Draw the food value chain, that is, think about the different stages from food production to food consumption. Where is some risk of food waste?
    1. a.

      Enumerate all the stages where the risk of food waste can occur. Find information to understand how much food is lost in each of the stages.

      Hint: This TED talk video can help:

    2. b.

      Espigoladors effort to reduce food waste acts on one of the first stages of the food value chain: food that is left on the fields after harvesting. Where do you think most of the food waste happens, at the earlier stages of the food value chain or at the later stages? Would that depend on the development of the country under study? Find information that supports your opinion.

      Hint: The webpage of the FAO can help:

  2. 2.

    Currently, Espigoladors is only acting within its region, particularly in a ratio of 150 km from Barcelona, where its main offices are. How scalable is Espigoladors’ business model? Can Espigoladors reach a higher radio of action? Can the same business model expand to other cities, areas, regions, countries? Find arguments that support your opinion.

  3. 3.

    Espigoladors aims to have a social, environmental, and economic impact. Besides the kg per year of fruits and vegetables recovered and given a second chance by Espigoladors, what other additional measures of impact can be used? Is kg/year the best impact measure for the type of activity Espigoladors runs?


Exercises in Practice

Exercise 1: The Zero-Waste Challenge

Although food waste happens at different stages of the food value chain, as consumers, we are especially responsible for the final part of this chain. The stage that includes shopping, cooking, and consumption also produce a certain amount of food waste that is entirely under our responsibility. The objective of this exercise is to become more aware of our behavior in terms of food squandering at our homes.

During a week, observe closely the amount of food you buy and the amount you consume. You can do that at an individual level if you are the responsible for your own grocery shopping, cooking, and consumption, or at a family level if it makes more sense to you. Or even at a school level if the exercise is done as part of a school project. Try to start in a week where your fridge is relatively empty!
  1. 1.

    List all the food you buy, specifying date, quantity, and time. For example:





Total price


17 October

1 unit



17 October

4 units



19 October

150 grams


  1. 2.

    Calculate all the food waste during cooking. You can do that either by observing how much is thrown when cooking or simply weighing the organic trash at the end of the day. Food waste at this stage will contain anything that can be either eatable or used for other purposes. For example, the peduncle and the seed of a cherry are not eaten by humans, but can be used for garden composting which would reduce waste and make the process much more sustainable and environmentally friendly. So you should count that as food waste.

  2. 3.

    Once food is cooked and ready to eat, calculate food waste after consumption. How much has been leftover? If leftovers can be consumed the following days, then they would not count as food waste, but if the leftovers are thrown away, then they are.

  3. 4.

    Add all food waste calculations to have an overall picture of your own (or your family/school) food waste during that period of time. Using the table elaborated in step one, calculate the waste in kilograms and also in monetary terms.

  4. 5.

    You have now your food waste for a week, multiply this number by 52 to have your food waste for a full year.

  5. 6.

    First individually and then in teams, reflect on which strategies could be applied to reduce food waste at this stage and list them. Present your team ideas to the rest of the group.

    Idea!: Store potatoes with apples to keep them from sprouting, and keep them away from onions. Onions will make them go bad faster.

    Do you know other tricks to better store your food?

  6. 7.

    Implement the ideas developed in step 6 during the following week and, following the same method outlined above, calculate what is your food waste level now. Have you improved? Have you been successful at the zero-waste challenge proposed? You can think of a prize for the winner.


Exercise 2: National Food Waste

  1. 1.

    Find statistics about the amount of food wasted in your particular country. Data can be in kg/person or in a total number of kg or tones.

Statistics about food waste are difficult to get and sometimes unreliable, so try to build your own. Think about the supply and demand of food in your country.
  1. 2.
    Food supply:
    1. a.

      Find how much food is produced in your country. Find data about fruit and vegetable production as well as livestock and fish.

    2. b.

      Find out your country food imports and exports. Together with the information gathered in question 2a, calculate the overall food production of your country. This would be the supply of food.

  2. 3.
    Food demand:
    1. a.

      What is the number of inhabitants in your country? Understand the proportion of children versus adults and also women versus men.

    2. b.

      Find what is the average intake of an average adult male, adult female, and children in terms of calories. Translate these calories into kg of food by considering a standard healthy diet. Compute now the amount of food consumed by all the people in your country.

    3. c.

      If you want to sophisticate your analysis, consider also other factors that can help you calculate the national intake such as the percentage of obese people.

  3. 4.

    Compute the difference between the number you have obtained in question two and the number you have obtained in question 3. Does this number coincide with the number found in question one? Why?


Exercise 3: Healthy Eating

Is food waste somehow related to healthy eating ? How and why?
  1. (a)

    In the text, the Mediterranean diet is mentioned as an example of healthy and sustainable diet. What are the characteristics of a healthy and sustainable diet? Design a healthy diet plan for the following week. Think about breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each of the days.

  2. (b)

    Watch the TED video of Ellen Gustafson about obesity and hunger ( Discuss in teams what are the main reasons for the issue presented in the video and propose some solutions.


Exercise 4: Debate

In the text, genetically modified seeds are mentioned as a technique to increase crops production.
  1. (a)

    What are genetically modified seeds?

  2. (b)

    Are genetically modified seeds healthy?

  3. (c)

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified crops?


Prepare arguments in favor and against genetically modified seeds. In class, you will be randomly assigned to a team, either in favor or against genetically modified seeds. Which group will better debate? Think a prize for the winner team.

Engaged Sustainability Lessons

  • Food management is an important part of sustainable development. The food supply chain has many stakeholders, each of them facing different challenges and with different objectives. However, all actors have an active responsibility for managing food appropriately.

  • Food waste is a global issue.

  • Many initiatives exist to reduce food waste all along the food supply chain. All societal actors should be actively involved in these initiatives, consumers, businesses, politicians, and educators, all have an important role in contributing to food waste reduction.

Chapter-End Reflection Questions

  1. 1.

    Many online tools exist to calculate your environmental footprint, some of them break up the calculation into different types of footprints, one of them being the Food Footprint. Calculate your Food Footprint, for example using the tool offered online by the NGO Redefining Progress (, or calculate your global Environmental Footprint using the tools offered by the World Wide Fund for Nature ( or the Global Footprint Network ( Reflect on your results.

  2. 2.

    Unfortunately, not only food is wasted in our world. Also, some other precious goods like water or energy suffer from squandering. Can the lessons learned in this chapter be applied to other type of goods?

  3. 3.

    How could you fight against food waste in your family, in your school, in your community? Are there already some organizations taking care of the issue? Could you be actively involved in them? If there are not, is there anything you could do?




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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Managerial Decisions Sciences DepartmentIESE Business School – University of NavarraBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Economy and Business OrganizationUniversitat Internacional CatalunyaBarcelonaSpain

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