Representatives of four of the UK’s biggest supermarkets have been questioned by MPs on their approaches to reducing food waste.
In a Efra committee debate, representatives from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose all said it was a company priority to address the issue, but there were differences about how much data should be publicly available.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s are the only two supermarkets that measure their annual food waste arisings separately, although they each use a different methodology.
Waitrose logs overall organic waste, including food, but said it was working with a new contractor to isolate food. Morrisons, meanwhile, considers waste collectively across all material streams.
All four are signatories to WRAP’s voluntary Courtauld Commitment 2025, which includes an aim to reduce food waste by 20%.
Labour MP and former shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy said this produced an aggregated retail figure and suggested it would be better for individual tallies to be published.
Morrisons head of corporate responsibility Steven Butts said all Courtauld signatories had a similar performance, but McCarthy responded: “How do we know that, though?”
Butts said: “You know that because you have the benefit of an independent and neutral body in the middle of it telling the industry and the wider stakeholders, public, MPs, customers that that’s what we do.
“It is not a question of saying we are not trying to provide information because I think we’ve tried really hard to provide information. Transparency is important but it should be about recognising the hotspots, then driving them out.”
Other supermarkets were more supportive of each retailer’s figures being published individually.
Tesco group quality director Tim Smith said: “Transparency means everything. It would be nice to know that everyone else is having the same issues.”
Smith as well as Sainsbury’s director of corporate affairs Louise Evans said the biggest proportion of their in-store food waste came from the bakery departments and efforts were being focused in that area.
However, all four supermarkets did not think it necessary to introduce mandatory food waste reduction targets, arguing it made business sense to do so and WRAP’s voluntary schemes had already produced results.
Conservative MP Simon Hart raised the topic of discount offers such as three-for-two and buy-one-get-one-free.
He asked: “Will we see an end to marketing techniques to encourage shoppers to buy more food than they need?”
Evans and Smith both said their stores were phasing out such schemes due to feedback from customers, who found them irritating.