Credit: Courtesy of The Daily Table

At first glance, the Daily Table in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston looks like any other neighborhood grocer—there’s organic asparagus and plump blackberries, tubs of pre-shredded mozzarella cheese and ready-to-go meals like chicken with penne, carrot-ginger soup and veggie stir-fry. Cute chalkboards shout out the names of farms supplying the store and food specials of the day in neat penmanship.

But once you take a look at the prices, it becomes clear that this is not your typical grocery store. Both the asparagus and the blackberries will set you back just 99 cents. Each 8-ounce tub of mozzarella is $1.49. A two-serving portion of the chicken with penne is $1.49 as well, while side dishes ring in at closer to 50 cents a pop.

The nonprofit grocer, which just opened late last week, has a specific target market: the 49 million Americans who face food insecurity. Its mission? To sell groceries and grab-and-go meals that are not only nutritious but can also compete with price points at chains like McDonald’s. To do so, Daily Table is utilizing a mostly forgotten resource: the 70 billion pounds of perfectly edible food that go to waste each year in America. Food that might otherwise be destined for the dumpster does not have the best reputation in America. So to combat that problem, Daily Table founder Doug Rauch also tapped into Boston’s health-minded brain trust—Harvard’s School of Public Health, Boston Medical Center and others. They will create nutritional guidelines for the foods that can be sold in-store, which will hopefully inspire confidence from shoppers in what they buy and eat.

Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, dreamed up this project five years ago during a fellowship with Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. And if his first outpost of Daily Table proves successful, you can expect to see the concept expand to other cities in the future (Rauch says he’s already garnered lots of interest). Here, in Rauch’s words, why his big idea could be the future of food retail.

Feeding people isn’t the same as nourishing them.

“In America, obesity is the new face of hunger—for the first time in history, we are able to give people all the empty calories they want but none of the nutrients. You can be nutritionally starved but calorically overfed. When you discover that the solution to hunger is not a full stomach but a healthy meal, then all of the efforts change.”

There’s a difference between “food waste” and “wasted food.”
“A lot of people refer to what we call ‘food waste.’ To me, food ‘waste’ is waste that came from food. It’s rotten food. There’s plenty of food waste. That’s not edible. No one in America wants a second helping of food waste. What I am interested in is wasted food—food that’s being wasted, that’s perfectly healthy, but in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”

On tapping into the “everyone loves a bargain” mentality.

“If we are going to come up with a solution for the 49 million Americans who are food insecure, it needs to be in a way that engenders dignity. No one feels great about a handout. Retail [also] puts the power in the hands of the customer. I’ve got to earn your patronage every day as opposed to you having to prove to me that you qualify for my service. As such, it creates by nature a more dignified situation. You’re the decision-maker, not me. There’s a fundamental power shift that occurs when you’re retail.”

It’s time to change how we view “expired” food.

“I’m a big proponent of us in America having an open dialogue and being educated on what expiration dates really mean. A sell-by date is the last date a retailer will sell you something. That’s by no means the last day you can eat it. It gives you a reasonable period of time, a week or more, to use it. Same with ‘best-by.’ We need to get clear as a country that the confusion we are creating over the display codes is causing waste. I am a fan of us as a society stopping wasting food simply because of the display code. It turns out at the moment, the Daily Table doesn’t have a single item that’s past the code. Our design is not to circumvent these issues but more to educate and inform and bring to awareness in America that we’ve allowed a system of date coding to get out of hand.”