Boston grocery store tackles food waste and high produce prices in one fell swoop

Photo from facebook.com/DailyTableDorchester
In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone fruit, a former grocery store chain president has opened a new, nonprofit store in Boston, Massachusetts that hopes to tackle both food waste and the unaffordability of healthy food among the working poor.

Daily Table, a not-for-profit grocery store, opened Thursday in Dorchester, a working-class neighborhood in Boston, featuring cheap, yet healthy foods that traditional grocers are unwilling to sell because of arbitrary ‘use by’ dates.

The store is the brainchild of Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, after seeing tons of perfectly good food tossed out because the items were close to or had surpassed their listed sell-by dates.

Daily Table is OPEN!!!We are SO happy to open our doors to the Dorchester community today. Come check out our...Posted by Daily Table Dorchester on Thursday, June 4, 2015

Daily Table’s food stock is mostly donated by food wholesalers and markets after it didn’t sell or was surplus, NPR reported. Other items are acquired through the Greater Boston Food Bank, and the store is one of that agency’s approved organizations, according to the Boston Globe. The food is sold at cost or for a slight mark-up, though customers should expect prices to fluctuate daily based on availability and donations.

“As you can see right here we’ve got a pile of bananas at 29 cents a pound,” Rauch told WBUR. “They’re Chiquita bananas, there’s no little black spots on them. Those probably have another three or four days before you start to go, ‘Oh, banana bread!’”

Americans trash 133 billion lbs (60 billion kg) of food ‒ mostly meat (including poultry and fish), vegetables and dairy products ‒ each year, according to a February 2014 report by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). About 10 percent of that comes from retail food waste, either by grocery stores or restaurants.

“If just 15 percent less food was wasted, America could actually cut hunger in half,” Ben Simon of the Food Recovery Network told RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky in February.

Yet, according to Feeding America, a national nonprofit network of food banks, 49 million people in the US ‒ or one in six Americans ‒ live in “food insecure” households, and processed meals and fast food are often much cheaper than fresh produce and other nutritious items.

“We’re trying to reach a segment of the population that is hard to reach. It’s the working poor who are out buying food, but who can’t afford the food they should be eating,” Rauch told the Boston Globe in May. “Our job at Daily Table is to provide healthy meals that are no more expensive than what people are already buying.”

Along with fresh produce, meat and dairy, the store sells healthy ready-to-cook meals and hot grab-and-go items designed to compete with fast food chains, “making it easier for families to eat healthier within their means,” Daily Table says on its website. “And all the food in our store meets guidelines set for us by a leading group of nutrition experts, which makes it easy for our customers to make great food choices.”

It took two years from the time Rauch announced his plans to open Daily Table for the store to come to fruition. He had to fight critics who said he was foisting “old” food rejected by the rich onto the poor, he told WBUR.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

Rauch notes that sell-by dates are not related to when food will spoil, but rather are tools for retailers and manufacturers to track and rotate products, he told the Boston Globe.

The store is membership-based, with shoppers needing to provide their ZIP codes to join. The intention is for the store to serve the surrounding neighborhood, which has historically been a food desert without access to many grocers.

READ MORE: NY food banks seek $16 million in state funding to restock their barren shelves

Customer Manuel Goncalves paid attention to both the expiration dates and the prices before purchasing food at Daily Table, he told WBUR. Yet he still managed to buy enough food for to feed his family for a week… for just over $30.

“I looked around, I saw the date. I saw the food being prepared in the back and I felt comfortable to come back and buy as much as I can,” he said.

It’s not just customers at the Dorchester store who are applauding Daily Table. Organizations that seek to end hunger appreciate how Rauch is targeting food waste.

“What Doug is doing is fantastic,” Sasha Purpura, executive director of Food For Free, a nonprofit based in Cambridge that aims to bridge the gap between food waste and hunger, told the Boston Globe. “The reality is that the most expensive foods are the healthiest, and one of the primary foods that is thrown away is produce, because it’s perishable. It’s a way to address food security by taking a resource that would otherwise go to waste.”