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Food waste cut along the chain

In May 2013, retail giant Tesco announced its ambition to lead in reducing food waste around the globe.

In setting this pledge, it made clear that this did not just mean within its operations. It wanted to help reduce food waste across the value chain – in fields, distribution and storage, and customers’ homes.

The company says that tackling food waste is important for a number of reasons.

First, food waste matters to its customers. Research by WRAP suggests that the average British family with children throws away £700-worth of food a year. Second, food waste adds significant costs to the business, so it is important that it drives down waste in its own operations. Third, it is unacceptable for any business to be wasting food unnecessarily. Finally, food waste puts unnecessary pressure on land and natural resources and results in additional greenhouse gases emissions.

Waste reduction at Tesco

Tesco’s starting point for taking action was greater transparency. It listened to food waste experts who urged it to provide more visibility on waste in its operations. So in May 2014, the company published independently assured figures which showed that 56,580 tonnes of food were wasted in its UK operations during2013/14. It remains the only major UK retailer to make these figures public.

After analysing the figures it found that the biggest area of operational waste was in bakery departments, amounting to 41% of waste last year. So a range of ways of reducing this has been looked at, including:

  • Encouraging bakery teams to bake less bread but more often, rather than larger volumes in one go, which often go to waste
  • Working with suppliers to extend shelf life on a range of bread and cake products
  • Developing intelligent promotion plans to help customers waste less bakery products

Where in-store waste does occur, this goes to animal feed. But the real opportunity is to reduce waste at either end of the value chain – from suppliers to customers– which is where most food waste occurs.

For example, one big change made recently is to redesign the packaging on key fruit and vegetable lines to include food waste tips. These are drawn from WRAP’s ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign, and range from storing apples in loosely tied plastic bags in a fridge, to storing spinach in plastic containers lined with a paper towel and a tight fitting lid.

And to address customer concerns that some marketing promotions can encourage more food waste, the retailer has not run ‘buy one get one free’ promotions on fruit and vegetables since April 2014.

Another area of focus is on sending unsold food to charities that give out food surplus to the needy. Examples from across Tesco’s international markets include:    

  • South Korea: during the first half of 2014, more than 300,000 bags of food were donated through our bakery surplus programme, helping almost 250,000 people in need.
  • Poland: during the same period, 300 tonnes of food was donated, equivalent to around 750,000 meals. A total of 48 Polish stores have been participating in the programme, and Tesco’s aim is for all hypermarkets to donate surplus food by the end of the year.
  • UK: since September 2012, more than 1,000 tonnes of food have been diverted from grocery home shopping stores and distribution centres to food surplus charity FareShare, enough to provide 2.3 million meals.
  • Republic of Ireland: launch of a groundbreaking partnership with FoodCloud to send surplus food from all 146 stores to community groups and charities. This partnership involves using FoodCloud’s app which matches surplus food from Tesco stores with charities and organisations that need it.                      

Mark Little is head of Food Waste Reduction at Tesco.

He will be taking part in the thought leader programme at Waste-Works, the waste and resource event dedicated to the food and drink industry, at the ExCeL Centre, London, from 22-25 March 2015.

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