Food waste is a complex problem with no easy solution and no one single cause. The scale of the problem is alarming: almost one third of all the food produced globally never makes it to the plate. In the UK alone, 15 million tonnes of food are wasted each year.
While almost half of the UK’s food waste occurs within the household, a not insignificant proportion occurs along the supply chain before the food even reaches our kitchens. The amount of food wasted at each stage along the chain varies considerably, but considering the close, interdependent relationship between supply chain partners, each is well placed to influence and help the others tackle the problem.
This is particularly the case for supermarkets and their suppliers.
Since the launch of the Courtauld Commitment in 2005, retailers have been working closely with suppliers and WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) to deliver on the ambitious voluntary targets agreed, including one to ‘reduce traditional ingredient, product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain by 3% by 2015’. We can take pride in the real progress that has been made to date - during the second phase of Courtauld alone (2010-2012) a total of 1.7 million tonnes of waste was prevented - however much still needs to be done.
On their part, British supermarkets have introduced a number of initiatives to both cut down on their own waste and to help their suppliers to do the same. Two such initiatives are better stock control management systems and more accurate sales forecasting, enabling manufacturers to better manage how much they produce and thus avoid having large quantities of perfectly good food products going to waste. A related initiative is the system of Sales-Based Ordering, recently introduced by some supermarkets, which allows stores to exercise greater efficiency in purchasing stock from suppliers, thus preventing over-ordering. Other supermarkets have adopted a ‘food waste footprint’ for specific products which helps to pinpoint where waste occurs and thus allows retailers to better plan to reduce waste.
Dealing with surplus food
While avoiding waste is and should remain the number one priority, where surplus food is produced, food companies and supermarkets are working together with redistribution organisations across the UK such as FareShare and Community Shop to make sure as much as possible goes to people who need it and is of social benefit.
Food and packaging waste along the UK supply chain is estimated to cost about £6.9m per year and this is, for the most part, completely avoidable. As signatories to the Courtauld Commitment, retailers and manufacturers have committed to playing their part in reducing waste, building a circular economy and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions in line with the government’s objectives as set out under the Climate Change Act. If we look beyond the environmental and ethical dimensions of this problem however, cutting down on waste simply makes good business sense as would any initiative to improve efficiency and reduce waste.