More and more European Countries are now making it mandatory for supermarkets to donate their leftover produce to the needy instead of it going to waste.

This week, Italy has voted to change the law to make supermarkets donate their waste food to charities and food banks. This follows France, which in February passed a similar law requiring food that was past its sell-by date to be donated.

However, the countries differ in how they will enforce the law, with France opting to force offending shops to pay a fine, whereas Italy will reduce their rubbish tax as an incentive.

“We are making it more convenient for companies to donate than to waste. We currently recover 550 million tonnes of excess food each year but we want to arrive at one billion in 2016.” – Italy’s Agriculture Minister, Maurizio Martina

In the UK, two of the largest supermarkets, Tesco and Morrisons, have also voluntarily stated that they will begin donating unwanted food to charity, and in Germany there are hundreds of local collaborations where shops and restaurants donate their unwanted food, such as the Berliner Tafel which has run for more than 20 years.

This all fits in with several larger trends happening throughout Europe, and other developing countries. It’s a sign not only of some industries being disrupted, but also of the changing tastes and values of consumers.

The impact of austerity in Europe on food poverty

Food poverty Figures for the UK, via the Trussel Trust

Food poverty Figures for the UK, via the Trussel Trust

One of the primary reasons why donations like this are so important is that there are millions of people across the continents who live in food poverty, unable to guarantee their ability to buy food in the upcoming days.

Partially this is due to the financial situation of the people requiring emergency food donations (the top 4 reasons in the UK are late payments of benefits, low income, changes to benefits and debt). But there are also the impacts of the European Governments’ austerity budgets and slow recovery from the recession which keeps people needing this assistance.

The good news is that there is a growing wave of support behind initiatives to provide food to these people. As the graph above shows, more and more people are getting the food aid they require. And with the voluntary and government-mandated changes proposed above, more high quality unprocessed food will become available.

The disruption of Supermarkets by discount retailers

In the UK over the past decade, there has been the development of a classic case for disruptive innovation in the supermarket industry.

Two discount retailers originally from Germany, Aldi and Lidl, have taken an accelerating amount of market share from the traditionally dominant big four supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsburys, ASDA and Morrisons). Leading up to 2015, the discount retailers had doubled their market share in 3 years.

The way they achieved this was simple: provide customers much cheaper products by reducing their cost base per item compared to the larger chains. They managed to do this by having a smaller selection of items with fewer duplicate choices, simpler designed shops which required less work with fewer staff, and advertising campaigns which convinced the public that in their case lower prices didn’t mean lower quality.

They innovated on the perception of the value they offered consumers, financially but still with quality.

The “bigger is better, everything under one roof convenience” that allowed the large stores to thrive through the 1990s is now being seen as less valuable by the consumers as their tastes have changed.

Now the larger supermarkets are trying to find ways to stop the loss of customers, by trying to convince them of value in other ways such as home delivery (which I personally love, but which reduces their profitability even further).

And another way to improve the perceived value of the supermarkets is by them showing they are trying to make the world a better place, in this case by donating food. Not only does that feed the hungry, it also addresses food being wasted, which is a hot topic with the younger generation.

So not only is this trend a sign of a shift in society towards reducing waste, it’s also the sign of an industry trying to stay connected to its customers.

What do you think about what the governments are trying to accomplish? Let us know in the comments below (we read all comments).



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Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as the world's #7 Innovation blogger in 2014, I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love.