The U.S. Wastes $161B Worth Of Food Every Year. A.I. Is Helping Us Fix That

When you see pictures of food waste, it just blows you away,” said Stefan Kalb, a former food wholesaler. “I mean, shopping cart after shopping cart of food waste. What happens with the merchandisers when they walk through the store, and they’re pulling products that have expired, is that they’ll put it in a shopping cart and just roll it to the back. It’s almost one of those dystopian [movie] pictures … cartons of milk just piled up in a grocery cart. The ones that didn’t make it.”

In the United States, somewhere between 30% and 40% of the food that’s produced is wasted. That’s the equivalent of $161 billion every single year. The U.S. throws away twice as much food as any other developed country in the world. There are all sorts of reasons this is a problem but A.I. could could solve it.

Kalb’s company is one of several startups — let’s call them the “Internet of Groceries” — using some impressively smart machine learning tools to help with this significant problem. Kalb is the co-founder of Shelf Engine, a company that uses analytics to help retailers better examine the historical order and sales data on their products so as to make better decisions about what to order. This means reduced waste and bigger margins. The company also buys back unsold stock, thereby guaranteeing the sale for a retailer.

We haven’t previously automated this micro-decision that is happening at the grocery store with the buyer,” said Kalb . “The buyer of the store is predicting how much to order — and of what. It’s a very hard decision, and they’re doing it for hundreds and thousands of items. You have these category buyers that just walk through the store to decide how they’re gonna change their bread order or their produce order or their milk order. They’re making these micro-decisions, and it’s costing them tremendous money. If we can automate that part, then we can really make a large impact in the world.”