What should we do with the leftovers of over production?

As children grocery shopping with mom or dad, we all would take a gander at the cakes as our parents strolled through the bakery department.  A lot of the cakes had room for customization for birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, etc.  But what happened to the cakes if the name John wasn’t supposed to have the ‘h’ in it?  Does it simply get thrown away?  We were curious to find out, so we decided to do our own study.

We asked the question, “What do grocers do with over-produced or incorrectly-produced items in their grocery store?”  By over-produced we mean the store made too much product to sell (of products they make in the store like at the deli or in the bakery).  By incorrectly-produced we mean they produced an item for a customer, but it wasn’t exactly what the customer wanted (the cake in the above example).  Our prediction was the grocers do one of three things: (1) they throw away the unneeded product, (2) they let employees have the unneeded product, or (3) they donated the unneeded product to charity.  We were especially curious about numbers 1 and 2.  We wondered if grocers throw away the unneeded items because they were trying to prevent the practice of employees purposely over or incorrectly producing these items in hopes of being able to have it.  Our hypothesis was that they do throw it out for this reason.

So we started calling grocery stores!  We took a random sample of 90 grocery stores across the United States expecting 35 of the stores to participate.  Well, we got 28 of them to participate and here is what we found:

Over Production Pie Chart

The categories Throw, Give to Employees, Donate, and Reclamation refer to grocers that said they only do one of these things.  So by looking at this chart, someone could think that only a small amount of grocers let their employees have the over-produced or incorrectly-produced product, but this is not the case.  More grocers do let their employees have the product; it’s just not the only way they deal with the issue.  As you can see, most grocers use a combination of methods to handle this.

Some of the combinations included throwing away the product and giving it to employees, but most of the grocers used a combination of donating and recycling (reusing the food to resell).  For example if there was a misspelling on a cake, a store could sell it by the piece and still make money.  Another way to recycle is use meat and produce that is still good from the deli department in the hot food recipes the next day.  Basically, grocery stores have found a way to make this issue less of an issue.  They are able to still make money off of product that could potentially cost them a lot of money, but they also have a charitable side and donate when they can.

Only three stores said they do not give the product to their employees to prevent intentional over production.  We thought this number would be higher, but our hypothesis was wrong.  Aside from the three stores that did throw it for this reason, the sampled grocery stores only throw away product that is expired and no longer good.  Everything that can be reused is marked down, reused in store, or given to employees or charity – Which is something an industry can be proud of.

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