Independent Food Retailers: 3 Best Practices That Can Help You Cut Unnecessary Waste

Posted on: 23 October 2015

While millions of Americans buy all their groceries from large supermarkets, a lot of consumers like to buy their produce from independent retailers, especially for niche or specialty items. For an independent retailer working on a tight margin, the cost of unsold goods and excessive trash collections can quickly erode profits, so it's important to find ways to control what you throw away. Make sure you minimize waste from your store with the three following best practices.

Waste stream analysis

Many independent retailers fail to control waste because they don't really know what they throw away. The good news is that you don't need the sophisticated systems of your larger competitors. Waste stream analysis is a simple, effective tool that any organization or business can use to understand more about the trash you create.

Analyze a sample of the trash your shop creates on an average day before letting the commercial trash removal service haul it away, categorizing the waste by type. You should then analyze how much each waste category takes up, based on weight and volume. This information will then help you spot obvious problem areas you can target. You may need to further break down the categories into specific product types or suppliers to pinpoint specific issues.

For example, if you notice that you have a lot of waste from a particular range of products, you can cut back on the stock each week. Alternatively, you could place the items more prominently if you don't think customers can easily find the items. Crucially, you must repeat waste stream analysis regularly to keep track of changing business needs and customer habits.

Just in time ordering

Traditional stock control methods work on a just in case basis. This approach means that you buy in enough stock to cope with the highest level of demand you may get. Just in case ordering is often expensive and wasteful, especially with fresh food that has a limited shelf life, and you'll probably end up throwing a lot of stock away.

Just in time ordering assumes that you only carry the stock you need for a short period. You'll need to work closely with your suppliers to switch to this way of working because there are lots of things to think about. For example, a lot of suppliers prefer to make one delivery per day or week, and they may only work at certain times.

In some cases, you may even need to review your pricing strategy. To cope with a new ordering pattern, your supplier may charge higher prices, especially if it's hard to get access to your shop at certain times of the day. Of course, ultimately, you may need to switch suppliers to work in this way, but this process is a good way to cut waste.


Upcycling is an increasingly popular alternative to recycling. Upcycling takes unwanted (and often useless) objects and reuses them in a way that creates something of higher or equal value to a consumer. Using a faulty compact disc as a coaster is a simple example of upcycling that finds a new way to use something that would probably otherwise end up in landfill.

Independent food retailers can also buy into this movement. Offering a free empty food crate or box to customers as an alternative to a carrier bag is a form of upcycling, but you'll need to work a bit harder to find other ways to benefit from upcycling.

Other independent retailers in your area may have ideas about ways that they can upcycle your waste. For example, a local fashion designer might have ideas about ways that he or she could use unwanted boxes or cartons to create interesting fashion accessories. Similarly, a local café owner may have ideas about how to use edible food waste that your customers won't buy in his or her recipes.

Join a local community upcycling initiative to learn about ways that other people can reuse your waste. Alternatively, some specialist upcycling companies will even collect certain items for free that they can then sell to other people.

Independent food retailers don't have the buying power of supermarkets, so it's important to manage all costs. Trash disposal can become an expensive business overhead, but good management practices can help you find ways to cut down on waste.