Open up supply chains to cut food waste – retailers urged

Jonathan Straight, Brand Ambassador for Approved Food, discusses with A1 Retail, what retailers can do to help reduce food waste.

Food waste is an ongoing concern not just in the UK but across the world. And while the amount of food wasted in this country has fallen in the past three years, there is still much work to be done.

While it is widely acknowledged that households are responsible for the majority of food being wasted post farm gate, retailers have an integral part to play in ensuring that food ends up on people’s plates rather than in the bin. In fact, the amount of food wasted by retailers has gone up over those same three years. Each year, retailers produce for tonnes of food waste, but this is only a small part of the overall picture.

We worked out that around 1.5 million tonnes of food per year are wasted in the manufacturing sector too. Much of this food is produced for retailers. It is difficult to conceive what this looks like in real terms, so we actually laid out a line of pallets at the Approved Food premises. We managed to put 20 tonnes of ‘rescued’ food onto 60 pallets – if we’d continued with the full amount, the line would have gone all the way from our Barnsley premises to New York. That illustrates the size of the issue that has to be addressed.

Despite the rise in waste over the past years, supermarkets are making a stance on food waste, with some donating unsold food to charity and others funding research. All the major supermarkets have signed up to the Courtauld Commitment 2025, targeting a 20% reduction in food waste from stores by this date. We at Approved Food are also a signatory to this programme as we can help the retailers to deliver their result. They need to save an additional 50,000 tonnes per year to meet their agreed targets.

This, though, is nothing more than a sticking plaster as the issue of food wasted within the supply chain – food that never reaches the shelf – forms a much bigger part of the overall problem.

A considerable amount of food, both own-brand products and major brands, is wasted for a variety of reasons. It may be that orders have been cancelled at the last minute, too much was produced, sales forecasts were disappointing, or the packaging has changed. These goods are effectively in limbo and are at risk of going to waste.

Branded food has many accredited outlets, but this is not the case for food produced under supermarket own-brand labels. Although such surplus food does not actually belong to the retailer; the retail giants, as owners of the brand, will tightly control the options for its destiny.

Retailers may legitimately worry about their brands finding their way into markets they do not directly control, but surely it is far worse for their products being seen to be sent to landfill or used as animal feed when it is perfectly good for humans to eat. Stakeholders need to make clear what their requirements are for use of the surplus food and protection of their brand and those who can offer an audited solution should then be free to bid for the goods in question.

Currently, far too few outlets are able to take such material, leading to a lack of a competitive market and inadequate capacity to deal with the problem. This has to change if we are going to see an ongoing reduction in food waste.  Own brand accounts for at least half of all the food produced – its destiny can no longer be left in the hands of a limited number of people. It is high time this was opened up so that the problem can be correctly tackled. Without this change, progress will inevitably remain limited.

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