Goodbye, Turkey Sandwich

Photo: kthread

Last week, I was out in Chicago for a couple of days working with Levitt. We had lunch at the Booth School cafeteria (with its great soda design) — or at least we tried to have lunch. There was a nice-looking case of sandwiches, and I asked the guy behind the counter for one of the turkey-cranberry sandwiches.

“No,” he said. “I can’t sell it to you.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“We’re closing. I can’t sell it to you.”

It was about 2:32 p.m. on a weekday afternoon. The sandwich I was eyeing was one of maybe 15 or 20 in the case. And then the guy behind the counter drags over a big trash can and throws my sandwich into it, and then all the other sandwiches too. It might have been my imagination — or maybe just hunger — but he seemed to take delight in throwing away the food for which I was ready to pay full price.

I’m guessing he had some health-code guidelines he was following, or maybe he just didn’t feel like dealing with another customer at the end of a long day. But my trashed sandwich did make me think of a recent visit to London when I discovered a sandwich chain (does anybody know the name? I can’t recall) that gives away all of its sandwiches at the end of day (maybe 7 p.m.?).

I admired this policy, in that: a) it didn’t waste food; b) it delighted customers; and c) I wouldn’t imagine it cannibalized much business, in that the kind of customer who would time her visit to the giveaway period probably wouldn’t come in at another time to pay full price.

If only the University of Chicago’s business school cafeteria could think about business a little more creatively …

ADDENDUM: To those of you who responded about the British chain — I am pretty sure it was Eat that I was thinking of, but it sure sounds like Pret-a-Manger (which I like a lot, and am happy to see it taking root in the U.S.) also does something useful with its sandwiches. Thanks!

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  1. Stefan says:

    Many german bakeries offer bred that has to be sold on the day for about 50% after 5 p.m. There is also a big charity organisation (Die Arche) which collect foods from stores after their closing time and offer it free people in need.

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    • Peter says:

      City Harvest does it in New York. Pretty much my favorite charity.

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    • Jasper says:

      Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, routinely prices anything that’s getting ready to be dumped due to being nearly out of date with a (especially made, hard to forge) 35% discount sticker. That’s bread at the end of the day, but also all the other prepackaged meats and milk etc.etc. after their period is up. (except fruit & veg — I guess those are generally not worth tracking that closely).

      Essentially it’s done by adding an extra step to the “check nothing is nearly out of date” process that you have to perform anyway, to ensure you don’t sell over date items. You just have to give the employee doing that a big roll of stickers, the instruction “if the date is in 3 days, toss it, if it’s in 6, sticker it and place it up front”, or whichever numbers work best.

      The 35% off stickered items, unless for whatever reason (people foiled the front of the shelf too often, instead of from the back) there is a huge quantity at once, tend to sell before the end of their useful life.

      When they started it was 50% off, but I guess they data mined their customer card database to determine 35 as the optimal.

      And we do also have Food Bank organizations that collect donations of that sort of thing and sell it cheap to people who are provably below the income line they set for their charity.

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  2. Conor says:

    Pret a Manger

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  3. John B says:

    Milton Friedman would have been very unhappy

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  4. Jeff says:

    Pret a manger? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10915739

    Owned by MaccyDs of course.

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    • Simon says:

      Re Maccy D’s – it was only the US branch, and not any more – they sold it on in 2008.

      They have an interesting recruitment policy too – you get a trial and then have to be voted in by staff of the branch you want to work for.

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  5. Chris says:

    Pret a manger is the chain that gives their sandwiches away at C.O.B.

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  6. Dave Evans says:

    The sandwich chain you mention is Pret A Manger. They have more information of their waste policy here: http://www.pret.com/sustainability/waste.htm

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  7. Magus says:

    I wonder if their POS system was taken down as part of “closing.” It’s possible he couldn’t sell it to you because he couldn’t execute the transaction. Having said that…

    It is a real shame that what seems like perfectly good food is thrown in the trash like that. I know there was a group of people at Penn State when I went there that knew the throw out schedule of the Panera bread and they would dumpster dive for what was salvageable. That is, until Panera put a lock on their dumpsters.

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  8. NickD says:

    Pret-a-porter, I believe.

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