BOSTON – The former president of the Trader Joe’s grocery chain has an idea for the massive quantities of food that America’s supermarkets throw out every day because it is near, at or past its sell-by date.
Doug Rauch says he can take that still-edible food and turn it in to a healthy, palatable and affordable meal to sell to Boston’s low-income families.
Rauch is negotiating to open a 10,000-square-foot store in Boston’s Dorchester section for his Urban Food Initiative, an idea that emerged from his research into hunger while studying as a fellow at Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative.
He told The Boston Globe that the idea is to make healthy meals available at the same prices as unhealthy fast-food meals that contribute to obesity, diabetes and other ailments.
“The No. 1 leading problem is affordable nutrition,” said Rauch, who worked for 31 years at California-based Trader Joe’s until he retired in 2008. “For the 50 million Americans who are food insecure, their solution is not a full stomach. It’s a healthy meal.”
Rauch is funding the project in large part with his own money.
One recent food waste study estimated that U.S. supermarkets on average discard $2,300 worth of out-of-date food per store every day, which adds up to billions of dollars per year.
To succeed, Rauch will have to overcome the perception that he’s just peddling unwanted food to the poor.
Jose Alvarez, who served as president of the Stop & Shop supermarket chain from 2006 through 2008 and is an Urban Food Initiative board member, said the organization has to get out the message that it’s not just selling “the rich man’s garbage.”
“You could have bought this yesterday at Whole Foods or Stop & Shop for $2 and today you can get it at Doug’s store for a $1 or 50 cents and it’s perfectly fine,” he said of the project’s message.
Massachusetts law allows for the sale of “expired” food as long it is “wholesome,” which means it smells and tastes good.
Sell-by dates are not set by law, but by food manufacturers, and they are generally conservative, meaning that the food remains edible past the expiration date.
Rauch says that if his Boston store is a success, he’ll open similar outlets in other U.S. cities.