Supermarket in Finland Implements “Happy Hour” to Reduce Food Waste

by Deirdre Appel
Happy Hour

Policy Name: Happy Hour at S-market

Overview: Happy Hour at S-market is a program created by Hok-Elanto,  a company that owns businesses in many industries, including gas stations, flower shops, and restaurants. The “happy hour” is just one of the many initiatives Hok-Elanto has implemented as a way to reduce food waste. It is just one aspect of their comprehensive plan to increase sustainability and energy efficiency by 30 percent by 2020, source their products from the local food system, and make their brand packaging 100 percent recyclable by 2022.

Happy hour is a strategy to attract “regulars”, much like a happy hour at a bar. Items that are reaching their expiration date are reduced first by 30 percent when stores open and then, at 9:00 pm, by 60 percent. This allows customers to enjoy a substantial discount on select products that will be thrown away the next day and, at the same time, helps the store to limit food waste. Products that are not sold but are still suitable for consumption are donated to charities throughout the country.

Location: Helsinki, Finland

Population: 648,042

Food Policy category: Food waste prevention

Program goals: The goal of the Happy Hour program is to reduce food waste by cutting prices before a product reaches its expiration date.

How it works: Products that are close to expiration are reduced by 30 percent. At 9:00 pm, these products are then reduced by 60 percent. After the store closes, the products that are no longer able to be sold are donated to around 80 charities around Finland. If the products are inedible, they are converted into biofuel. 

Progress to date: The program has seen a great response from consumers and food waste has been reduced to close to 1 percent since the initiation of Happy Hour.

Why it is important: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, between 335 to 460 million kilograms of food are wasted every year in Finland. Food waste is costly, with the FAO reporting a $680 million loss annually from global waste. 

In America, National Research Defense Council (NRDC) reported that in 2008 in-store food losses amounted to an estimated 43 billion pounds and laid out reasons, which included overstocking of products, expired sell-by dates, and damaged goods. Instead of letting products run out shelves are continuously being restocked regardless of what time the store is closing and how fresh the product is. For example, if rotisserie chickens are continuously restocked, “old” product will have to be thrown out by the end of the day. This creates a huge waste problem, with one grocer reporting having thrown away 50 percent of rotisserie chickens at his store. 

In addition, the labeling of food is confusing for consumers. Sell-by dates are mainly used by stores to ensure that the freshest product is on the shelf. However, a food product that has passed this date is likely still edible. It’s estimated that on average grocery stores throw away $2,300 worth of product each day because of labeling. Consumers are expecting a certain quality of product and display when they shop. Products that are damaged, such as misshapen fruits and vegetables and squished boxes will never see a grocery store shelf.  

A recent report put out by the Center for Biological Diversity ranked American grocery stores on their efforts to reduce food waste. Not surprisingly, most stores scored a “D” or lower. Efforts put forth by S-market, on the other hand, show true dedication to solving the food waste crisis. As grocery stores continue to be contributors to global food waste, it’s imperative for the industry to review their standards and practices and move toward sustainable policies. 

Program/Policy Initiated: The happy hour program was started as a two-year initiative.

Point of contact: Veli-Matti Liimatainen, President and CEO, and Ari Talso, Chain Director of S-market, 

Similar Practices: In France, grocery stores can be fined for throwing away food. France was the first country to pass legislation to combat food waste. Now, if grocery stores want to avoid hefty fines, they must donate excess food or come up with creative solutions to reduce waste. The head of the French food bank network claims that food banks now receive more than half of their donations from grocery stores. This law has helped fight food waste and increase food security throughout the country. 

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Evaluation: N/A


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