Throwing out food before expiration and still reducing food waste: online vs. offline retail



When you order food online, say at an online supermarket, you typically don’t tell the retailer when you are going to consume the food. In response, retailers make reasonably sure that the ordered food can be consumed before expiration. For example, the retailer might only deliver food which is valid for at least one more week. Food that expires sooner is unsalable and wasted.  In contrast, when buying food offline you pick your own products and have full information. Hence, you can still buy food that expires tomorrow, if you intend to consume it today. Therefore, offline stores only throw out food after expiration. Although it might seem that online retail is more wasteful, because food is thrown out before expiration, we argue that in fact it is less wasteful. Online retail benefits from the pooling effect and the ability to enforce FIFO inventory depletion. In our experiments, the advantages of online retail more than make up for the food that is wasted by throwing it out before expiration.

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