Giant Food tests selling about-to-expire food at 50% off

Landover, Maryland-based grocery chain Giant Food is piloting a program at three D.C.-area stores with Toronto-based Flashfood to sell food it might otherwise have to throw away soon at a deep discount.

Items getting a second chance through the app-based Flashfood include meat, dairy, produce and baked goods.

“Instead of throwing the food out, they mark the price down 50% off, we send a notification out to our users who see the deal through their phone, pay through their phone and pick their items up that day at their store. So we basically took the discount rack, made it look sexy, and put it on your cell phone,” said Flashfood founder and CEO Josh Domingues.

Items placed in the Flashfood Zone cases are nearing their “best by” or “sell by” dates, which often underestimate how long grocery items remain fresh, edible and safe, but retailers generally discard items that reach those dates.

“You still usually have anywhere from 24 to 72 hours until things hit their “best by” or their “sell by” date,” Domingues said.

Flashfood receives a percentage of any Flashzone sales as its business model. Grocers, such as Giant, get additional revenue from items they would otherwise discard, often at their own expense.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute have developed a guide to how long virtually every food will keep, whether in the pantry, refrigerator or freezer, called The FoodKeeper, regardless of often arbitrary expiration dates.

It is estimated that $37 billion worth of food is thrown out at the retail level globally each year.

It is not just a waste of food, it is also a huge environmental problem.

“Most times it ends up in a landfill. It is covered by other garbage and it rots and doesn’t have any oxygen and that produces methane gas. So the statistic is if international food waste were a country, it would be the third leading cause of greenhouse gas emission, behind China and the U.S., Domingues said.

Flashfood already has partnerships with about 1,100 grocery stores, in the U.S. and Canada. Giant Food is among partners for its continued U.S. expansion.

It will initially test the Flashzones at three Giant Food stores, in Catonsville, Maryland, Ellicott City, Maryland, and Falls Church Virginia.

“We are excited to roll out this pilot program with Flashfood to offer our customers valuable savings on fresh foods, while also decreasing food waste in our goal of Zero Waste Diversion by 2025,” said Giant Food brand leader for health and sustainability Steven Jennings.

Domingues was inspired to start Flashfood after talking to his sister, a chef, who complained about the thousands of dollars worth of foods she was required to throw out after a catering event. That led to research about food waste, and the opportunity to contribute to reducing it.

Except for infant formula, dates on food products are actually not required by any federal law or regulation, but manufacturers and producers use them to indicate what they consider their best quality window. The FDA recommends using your senses – observing appearance, texture and smell – to determine whether food has gone bad and needs to be discarded.

While not recommended, the founder of the local grocer MOM’s Organic Market, Scott Nash, and his family ate food that was past its labeled date for a year in 2019, including dairy, produce, meats, fish and packaged food, to make a point about ‘best by” and “sell by” labeling.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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