Trader Joe’s has become a business and multicultural success story.  From Korean bulgogi to Spanish marcona almonds to Indonesian ginger candy to Paraguayan organic sugar, the company offers an impressive assortment of goods at great prices.  Once the store of choice for the underemployed PhD with no money but high standards, it became the store of choice for DINKs (double income no kids) or even SIOKs (single income one kid).  I’m an unapologetic fan.

I’m a little biased towards the chain, and not just because I have memories of greeting two suitcases filled with the store’s stuff when my parents visited when I lived in Korea.  During a tough economic climate, they are one of the few retailers who offer health insurance, and pay decent wages that have helped many through a career transition—and offered a decent living to those who choose to stay.  Its bottom line has performed pretty well, quadrupling its sales since 1990, and now boasts over 340 stores.  Many products are organic; TJ’s avoids genetically modified foods; discontinued selling irresponsibly source fish; and does a solid job encouraging its shoppers to use reusable bags—though we still never have won that $25 gift certificate.  Its former President, Doug Rauch, is now a fellow at Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, sorting out how he can use his past experience to reduce food waste while reducing hunger, as well as informing citizens how to make healthier food choices.

The company he led gives him a good start.  One reason for TJ’s success is because of its food packaging—most of its products only come in one size.  Not only does that allow TJ’s to cram more products in a smaller store, but less food waste often occurs as a result.   But as is the case with every food retailer, plenty of food gets tossed at Trader Joe’s.  Rauch estimates that 5 billion pounds of food goes into garbage bins annually.  Much of it is “expired food” that still has a few shelf days remaining, but cannot get to a food bank in time.  Meanwhile, plenty of trucks troll our streets and highways that deliver their wares daily and return to distribution centers empty.  Perhaps there is a way to encourage those trucks to drop off unwanted groceries at food banks?  Rauch suggests that the US Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS find a way to get involved—he wants to find a way to incentivize these courier services to pick up and drop off these products as much as possible.  If these trucks are going back to the docks empty, they could work with stores to make sure all those products get eaten—and not end up in a landfill, by the way.  In this age of smart phones and Twitter, it should be pretty easy to figure out.

Hunger in America is a complicated story.  As far back as I remember, I would hear about grain silos bulging with wheat that was not sold on the market while hunger festered in poor and rural areas.  Rauch believes that much of the problem is not the lack of calories, but consumption of the wrong ones—as the US obesity epidemic would indicate.  Faster food has led to faster weight gain:  Rauch is studying how these problems can be addressed, and is floating ideas like offering extra food stamps to families that would only be good for fresh fruits and vegetables—the purchase of which is often a challenge in poor urban areas.

Hunger is increasing around the world thanks to the economic climate, and other wealthy nations including the United Kingdom are also finding themselves increasingly dealing with the issue.  Much of the problem, as Rauch believes, is not the lack of food, but poor timing.  I am curious to learn about the solutions Rauch comes up with in the coming year—but he has already intrigued me for putting off retirement and instead, researching a solution for addressing such problems that will only get worse before they improve.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.