Morality purchase? Why Danish shoppers are snapping up expired food.

A new grocery store in Copenhagen is selling only expired or damaged products. And employees at WeFood can't restock the shelves fast enough. 

Mel Evans/AP
In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 file photo, a worker removes leaves as nectarines get sorted for packaging at Eastern ProPak Farmers Cooperative in Glassboro, N.J. The U.N. food agency said Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, that one-third of all food produced in the world gets wasted, amounting to a loss of $750 billion a year.

Denmark opened its first food waste supermarket last month, and it is proving to be a big success. 

Volunteers at WeFood, a brainchild of Danish NGO Folkekirkens Nødhjælp, pick up food from large supermarkets that has either passed its official expiration date or has aesthetic imperfections and bring it back to the Copenhagen-based store. All products sold at WeFood are 30 to 50 percent cheaper than their wholesale counterparts, attracting both low-income bargain hunters as well as environmental and socially-minded advocates.

And WeFood has had a hard time keeping its shelves stocked. 

“It’s fantastic. It shows that people want to buy the goods,” Per Bjerregaard, the press officer at Folkekirkens Nødhjælp, tells The Copenhagen Post. “I’m not quite sure that we have time to restock everything for tomorrow – so much as been sold.” 

The first day of sales, Feb. 23, saw between 800 and 900 transactions, says Bjerregaard. If WeFood continues to see success, Folkekirkens Nødhjælp says it will open similar stores across Denmark. 

Each year, Danes throw away over 1.5 billion pounds of food. And with 842 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, going to bed hungry every day, even the Danish waste alone could make an impact. 

And while WeFood is not Denmark's first food waste supermarket, but according to Bjerregaard it is the first one aimed at the general public. 

“WeFood is the first supermarket of its kind in Denmark and perhaps the world as it is not just aimed at low-income shoppers but anyone who is concerned about the amount of food waste produced in this country,” Bjerregaard tells The Independent UK. “Many people see this as a positive and politically correct way to approach the issue.” 

The recently resigned Danish Minister for Food and Environment, Eva Kjer Hansen, tells The Independent that she supports WeFood’s solution.

“It’s ridiculous that food is just thrown out or goes to waste,” says Hansen. “A supermarket like WeFood makes so much sense and is an important step in the battle to combat food waste.”

All profits from the food sold at WeFood is used to support anti-poverty efforts around the world. 

And even before WeFood, the Danes had made a name for themselves as a leader in food waste prevention. According to a report released by the Danish government last year, the Scandinavian country now wastes 25 percent less food than they did five years ago. This translates to 35 pounds of food saved per person per year. 

Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joes, opened up an initiative similar to WeFood last year in Boston. The nonprofit grocery store Daily Table serves Dorchester’s low-to-middle income families with safe, healthy food that didn’t sell at larger food markets. 

And last month, France introduced a new law that fines supermarkets for throwing away food. If caught wasting food instead of donating it to local food banks, stores could face over a $4,000 fine. 

But WeFood is especially exciting, because it proves Danes will shop for discounted, expired food because of moral obligations, not just financial ones. 

“If you call it a ‘social supermarket,’ it’s difficult to get customers to go there. Who wants to be poor?” Bjerregaard tells NPR. “If you want to stop [the] waste of food, everybody has to be into it.” 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to