Friday, February 7, 2014

The Daily Table: A Redistribution Revolution

How often to you reach to the back of the case to find a gallon of milk with the furthest away expiration date? How often do you think twice about buying a loaf of bread with a "Sell By" date looming in the near future? We all are culprits of selective shopping: we want to get the best value for our dollar and we don't want moldy food.

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the food with undesirable "Sell By" dates? Well, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of the food in the United States is thrown away each year, uneaten. That 40% amounts to about $165 billion worth of supposedly "expired" food removed from grocery store shelves annually. The fact remains, however, that most of this food is perfectly edible - people often just misread food labels which leads to excessive waste.  For example, a box of cookies with a "Sell By" date of February 1, will be taken off the shelves quickly after, as most customers misperceive a "sell by" date as an expiration date.  As a result, grocery stores simply dispose of tons of perfectly acceptable and healthy food.

Doug Rauch, former president of grocery chain, Trader Joe's, began searching for an innovative way to decrease the amount of food wasted each year.  The extreme amount of food that is simply wasted coupled with the high percentage of Americans lacking appropriate nutrition and access to healthy foods alarmed Rauch so he started looking for ways to remedy two problems: eliminate food waste and serve those who are in need of nutritious, affordable food.  Rauch has extensive experience with the food world, and has had first-hand experience with the problems grocery stores face with leftover and overstocked food. He has also observed the growing need for affordable and healthy foods, especially for Americans living in low-income "food desert" communities.

His innovative solution comes in the form of The Daily Table, a grocery store that will repackage, prepare, and sell overstocked goods from supermarkets in the area. The goods sold at Daily Table will be sold at highly slashed prices, so as to make food more accessible to low income populations.

Rauch identified a problem and creativly identified a solution that, while novel, isn't necessarily new. Rauch, in an interview with NPR last year, highlighted the food redistribution that food banks have been doing for decades. So, in this sense, Rauch's innovation is appropriate creativity. He identified a problem, recognized solutions previously attempted, and built upon those solutions to create Daily Table.  Rauch said recently in an interview with the New York Times, that as Americans "we're uneducated" and "because [food] is so inexpensive we can afford to throw away food."  Rauch hopes that the Daily Table will not only provide quality, inexpensive food to those in need it will help everyone "become better informed."

As to whether or not The Daily Table and Doug Rauch means a paradigm shift in the world of food, it's a little too soon to see. My prediction? I think we'll be seeing a lot more redistributed food and healthier, more sustainable communities in the near future.


  1. I think this is such an important innovation. I worked in a kitchen at a nursing home for two years and it was always really frustrating to see all the waste associated with the food industry. So many meals are thrown away while so many people are in need of food. Last semester I volunteered at Edgewater's food pantry, and most of the donations were expired goods from grocery stores. Doug Rouch's The Daily Table is a creative solution for grocery stores and people in need - everyone benefits.

  2. While Rauch's innovation is definitely creative, I think it falls under little-c creative rather than Big-C creative. For example, this post does not specify how many Daily Tables are in business. If it's only a few branches in one city, it does not reach nearly far enough to create a paradigm shift in the world of food. To make a sizable dent in the wasted expired food, one must open several such stores in every major cosmopolitan area. I think that the problem he is addressing, if he wants to address it on a national scale, must be attacked from the source. This may mean putting both the sell by and the expiration date on the food or maybe just educating customers. If the main aim of his innovation is to save his own store money, then he is succeeding, but if the aim is to change the business, opening these stores might not be the most cost effective option. For these reasons, I think the Daily Table is little-c creative, not Big-C creative.


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