retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s a simple rule to business success. Essentially, find a way to do more with less.

Do that and you become more productive, more profitable and a much tougher competitor. Simple words, of course, but the real trick is finding a way to make it happen. Certainly in tough times like we have today, doing more with less is a constant challenge and one that at times can even seem counter-productive. (Consider the chatter over Kevin’s recent article about the impact of cutting staff while emphasizing service.)

There’s good reason we spend a lot of time here talking about issues like the economy, technology and demographics. The food industry is always tightly linked to the changes in our communities - large and small - and those three issues in many ways are the catalysts for much of today’s change. But they aren’t the only ones.

It’s hard to think back just four short years, before the economy melted down, to issues that were getting massive discussion. Among them were the growing global competition for resources, spearheaded by the booming economies in China and India, the world’s two most populous countries. In 2008 we started seeing the impact of that change in sharply rising fuel and food prices caused by global competition (crises that were eased somewhat by the global economic collapse.)

Here’s the bad news: those problems didn’t go away. Not even close. That’s why the issue of efficiency requires yet another angle.

The Washington Post recently convened a panel of experts, including representatives of the retail and supply communities, to examine the strange global dynamic that currently exists: millions of people are obese at the same time that millions are starving. In a special summary report issued last week the Post highlighted some of the key statistics behind these dueling trends and the incredibly important role played by the food industry. I’m sorry to say that this won’t read nearly as easily or simply as the debate over the size of soft drinks in New York City. When it comes to problems, this is the deep end of the pool.

Consider a couple of statistics:

• Every year, 1.3 billion tons of food produced worldwide gets lost or wasted - more than 1 ton per hungry person worldwide. Food loss and waste occur in production through to consumption. More than 30 countries have experienced food riots in the past five years.

• In the US, approximately 40% of the food we grow is not eaten. By another measure, the waste equals 1,400 calories per day per person even while some 48 million Americans currently live with some insecurity about getting enough food.

These are complex issues and certainly ones that defy any pithy or rapid solution in a column such as this. These are issues that extend from nutrition to food deserts, genetic engineering to global supply chains. In other words, I don’t even have a clue how to start solving this beyond urging readers to examine how their companies contribute to waste and consider efforts to improve.

Then again, awareness matters too. This is an issue that this industry is certain to grapple with for decades to come. Economics, demographics and technology are huge issues, but so is the environment and global hunger.

Luckily, the food industry has a great record of doing more with less. So maybe there is a reason for optimism after all.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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