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Can old food help solve world hunger?

At the Wefood supermarket it can. Meet the Danish not-for-profit that’s flogging past-it produce to save lives

Can old food help solve world hunger?

Text by Mandi Keighran Photos⁄Ken Hermann

Would you eat a wrinkly tomato? How about an ugly cucumber? Or flour that’s past its use-by date but still perfectly OK to eat? What if by doing so, you could not only save money on your weekly grocery bill, but also help reduce food waste and contribute to fighting hunger in developing countries? 

That’s the thinking behind Wefood, Denmark’s first “social surplus” supermarket, which opened in Copenhagen in February this year. Founded by humanitarian NGO DanChurchAid, it collects food that’s past its best and sells it on, with all the profits going to help the hungry in Asia and Africa. 

“We wanted to put a focus on food waste in developed countries and, at the same time, try to help with food needs in developing countries,” says Birgitte Qvist-Sørensen, the general secretary for DanChurchAid.

The concept is simple. Each year, over 90 million tonnes of food is wasted in the EU because it’s deemed “ugly”, damaged (say, a dented tin can that fell off a shelf), or is nearing its sell-by date. Volunteers from DanChurchAid collect food that would otherwise be destined for the bin from 35 retailers around Copenhagen for retail at the Wefood supermarket at half price. The money is used to fund agricultural projects in the developing world, such as introducing drought-and-disease-resistant crops to farmers in Malawi. 

Making this vision a reality, however, wasn’t so simple. Until early this year, Danish tax laws stated that any food sold – even for charity – needed to be taxed, meaning it was cheaper for supermarkets to simply throw food away. “We lobbied the authorities that this was wrong and this year they changed the laws,” says Qvist-Sørensen. Now, DanChurchAid pays a symbolic flat annual tax fee, and it doesn’t cost supermarkets anything to give the food away.

Since opening, Wefood has been a huge success. Long lines of eager customers stretch out of the door, and produce sells out every day – despite the slightly strange offerings. “We recently got a huge portion of ginger ale and more than a tonne of carrots and beetroots,” says Qvist-Sørensen. “But, we still sold it all.” 

Based on the concept’s success and growing interest from retailers, there are plans to open a second Wefood in Copenhagen later this year. Next year, a third will open in Aarhus to coincide with the city’s designation as European Capital of Culture.

“Food waste is an issue that affects the whole population,” says Qvist-Sørensen. “We want to attract people who want to save money and do something for the environment too.”

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