Hundreds of years ago grocery shopping was a very different process. Nowadays consumers have many options on where they purchase their groceries and what type of food they can buy. But all those options make it difficult for food companies to manage customer demands with sourcing and food regulations. In developing and developed countries which operate either commercial or industrial agriculture, food waste can occur at most stages of the food industry and in significant amounts.
Packaging protects food from damage during its transportation from farms and factories via warehouses to retailing, as well as preserving its freshness upon arrival. Although it avoids considerable food waste, packaging can compromise efforts to reduce food waste in other ways, such as by contaminating waste that could be used for animal feedstock.
Retail stores can throw away large quantities of food. Usually, this consists of items that have reached their either the best before, sell-by or use-by dates. Food that passed the best before, and sell-by date, and even some food that passed the use-by date is still edible at the time of disposal, but stores have widely varying policies to handle the excess food. Some stores put effort into preventing access to poor or homeless people, while others work with charitable organizations to distribute food. Retailers also contribute to waste as a result of their contractual arrangements with suppliers. Failure to supply agreed quantities renders farmers or processors liable to have their contracts cancelled. As a consequence, they plan to produce more than actually required to meet the contract, to have a margin of error. Surplus production is often simply disposed.