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Reducing the Industry Waste-Line: 5 Questions with Blue Apron

Author: Apeel Team

As part of our virtual conversation series, Good Bites, we’ve been talking to the food industry’s sustainability changemakers to get their takes on how we can address food waste, climate change, and important agricultural considerations.

One of the inspiring brands we’ve recently had the pleasure of chatting with is the meal kit delivery company, Blue Apron. Hanna Koski, Blue Apron’s Head of Sustainability & Social Impact, joined us alongside Maddy Rotman, Head of Sustainability at Imperfect Foods.

It was a fascinating conversation full of incredible insights and inspiring ideas for reducing waste, so we wanted to share 5 of the questions we asked Hannah.

You can watch the whole Good Bites conversation with Maddy and Hannah on our website or at the bottom of this blog post.

  1. Blue Apron has such a unique role to play in the space of food waste. Especially when it comes to pre-portioned meal kits as a way to reduce that waste. Can you tell us about how Blue Apron approaches that?

HANNAH: Food waste reduction has always been a part of Blue Apron’s DNA and has been since we were founded in 2012. Sending recipes and perfectly portioned ingredients to households drastically cuts back on household-level food waste, and I don't think that’s a surprise to anyone. But one thing I don’t think people know is that Blue Apron focuses on reducing food waste across its supply chain. We work upstream with suppliers on demand planning to help our suppliers with their inventory management. 

We also have a really strong commitment to reducing food waste in our own operations. In 2016, we joined the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions, creating a team that is entirely dedicated to reducing food waste in our fulfillment centers. In two years, we’ve reduced food waste by 59% nationally, which is something we’re really proud of. We take our inspiration from the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, so as much surplus food as possible is routed to people whether this is with our own Farmer’s Market program where we give food at no cost to our employees or with our food bank program partnerships. For anything that’s not necessarily edible, we make sure to route that to animal feed and then compost. And we just introduced off-site anaerobic digestion at our California facility. We’re just trying to make sure as much food as possible is diverted from the landfill. It’s a significant part of our climate strategy.

  1. Company alliances are so important to food waste reduction goals. Can you talk about the importance that Blue Apron places on industry collaborations, partnerships, organizations? Are there any good examples you’ve seen or that you're striving for?

HANNAH: Collaboration is so critical. None of the work we do would be possible if we didn't have collaboration across multiple sectors. We really prioritize continual improvement as a big part of our sustainability strategy. We look to the EPA and the USDA and other leaders in the industry, as well as the nonprofit sector, organizations like ReFed who are driving innovative solutions across sectors. I think what's also really important is that companies are transparent with their own best practices. It’s been a journey for us in our food waste facilities, and even at the household level. We’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. I think it’s so important that we not only get the opportunity to learn from others in the industry, but that we are able to share our best practices so that we are all working together to see impactful progress as quickly as possible.

  1. Are there parts of the industry that are slower to join and are there incentives that could be surfaced to help bring larger more traditional companies along into these alliances?

HANNAH: I’ve been fortunate in my work to see that overwhelmingly, and almost unanimously, people understand the value here. But I think what’s fascinating in particular is that there is such a clear business case for food waste reduction in a large corporation. There’s a tax benefit for making a donation of food and there are reductions in waste hauling fees. So it’s not just something that is critical to mitigating climate change and to really addressing food security, but there are also business benefits for companies to prioritize food waste reduction. 

  1. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve learned about being able to communicate and educate consumers on household-level waste and what you think companies could or should be doing to help educate them?

HANNAH: The most recent estimate I’ve seen is that more than 40% of food that is wasted in this country is wasted in people’s homes. There’s a lot of factors that contribute to that: Poor planning, overbuying. I’m certainly guilty of that sort of spontaneous shopping. Blue Apron, by its model, offers a solution to that. We’re sending recipes with perfectly portioned ingredients to help with meal planning. But we also provide education which is so critical. Whether it’s with our blog or social media, there are a lot of different ways we can connect and tell the story of food and food waste, how it relates to climate change and how we can work at reducing that. 

Blue Apron is proud to empower home cooks. When we send a recipe, it’s not just about the ingredients and the final dish. We want to foster culinary curiosity and confidence in the kitchen for our cooks. At the end of the week, someone might be looking in their refrigerator and think to themselves, “What am I going to do with this food that’s about to go bad?” Not only do they know they should use it, but they also have the skills in place to make a really fantastic meal that’s gonna be delicious. 

  1. How can we best measure the carbon footprint of a meal kit versus a traditional food chain consumer option?

HANNAH:  Taking a holistic look is so critical. There was a study that came out, peer-reviewed, from the University of Michigan in 2019, that looked at what preparing a meal at home with a meal kit meant for one’s carbon footprint compared to preparing the same meal by going to the grocery store and buying the ingredients. It looked at household-level food waste reduction, packaging, and at carbon emissions associated with the supply chains. So, for meal kits specifically, it was looking at that more streamlined supply chain and eliminating the middleman. What it found was by preparing a meal at home with a meal kit, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 25%. At Blue Apron, we really prioritize continuous improvement, so we’re always looking for ways to innovate, to reduce our packaging, to make it more recyclable, and use more post-consumer recycled contents. We track and measure these things because we want to see that number be impactful. 

To watch the whole Good Bites conversation with Hannah and Blue Apron, check out this video: