How Supermarkets Are Tackling Food Waste

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Each year 250,000 tonnes of food is thrown away by retailers and wholesalers. Despite this amount of food going to waste, there are nearly six million people in the UK who are living in poverty and struggle to feed their families. To help tackle this mismatch, many supermarkets are introducing initiatives whereby food that would otherwise go to waste is donated to those who need it most.

Feeding Those in Need

The link between food waste and poverty became a headline topic in May 2015 when a couple were charged with theft for taking food from Tesco’s bins to feed their young family. After the couple had used their benefits to pay rent and utilities, they had just £10 a month left for food. With a family of four to feed, they resorted to foraging from supermarket bins, where they discovered the majority of waste was perfectly edible. The pair were discharged after the Judge took sympathy, determining the waste food to be of “no value” and asking “how are they expected to live?”. However, the supermarkets didn’t get off so lightly; the story prompted criticism of supermarkets for allowing so much food to go to waste, when there are so many who could benefit from it.

The incident coincided with the French Government’s plans to introduce a law banning large supermarkets from disposing of unsold food, which was passed in February 2016. Now, heads of supermarkets sized 4,305 square feet or above face a fine unless they partner with charities or food banks to donate unwanted food. Although France is the only country to introduce this law, many of the UK’s supermarkets have voluntarily embarked on similar initiatives to combat waste and make a difference to those in need. Indeed, Tesco itself has been described as has having made a “U-turn” since attempting to charge the foraging couple.

Turning Waste into a Positive

As Britain’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco discards 55,400 tonnes of food every year and admits 30,000 tonnes of this is edible. However, Tesco found a way to turn this waste into something positive. It ran a pilot scheme at 14 stores in several cities called the Community Food Connection. The initiative saw Tesco partner with the charity FareShare and the social enterprise FoodCloud to help unwanted food reach those who need it the most:

  • FareShare is a food distribution charity. Its mission is to “save good food destined for waste and send it to charities and community groups who transform it into nutritious meals for vulnerable people”. It works with a range of charities and community groups “from breakfast clubs for disadvantaged children, to homeless hostels, community cafes and domestic violence refuges”.
  • FoodCloud uses an app to connect stores who have surplus food with local charities who have a use for it. Store managers simply upload details of what food is available and when it can be collected. The details are sent to a local charity via a text message so they can arrange to pick it up. The app has facilitated enough donations to supply 2,400,000 meals to those in need. That’s one meal for around half the people living in ‘deep poverty’ in the UK.

In just six months, Tesco’s pilot scheme saw 22 tonnes of food donated to vulnerable people – equating to 50,000 meals; that’s over 3,500 meals per store. Following this successful pilot, it now plans to roll-out the initiative throughout the UK and aims to eliminate food waste from its stores by 2017. Chief executive, Dave Lewis, said: “wherever there’s surplus food at Tesco stores, we’re committed to donating it to local charities so we can help feed people in need.” Tesco is now encouraging other supermarkets to adopt the FoodCloud app to promote donation more widely across the food retail industry.

Rallying to the Cause

Alongside Tesco, several of the UK’s leading food retailers have embarked on similar initiatives. We describe below how some of our top supermarkets are tackling food waste:

  • Morrisons distinguishes itself from other supermarkets as it makes some foods on-site as well as selling pre-prepared groceries. It says this gives it greater power to reduce waste every step of the way. The chain’s policy on food waste is twofold. In the first instance, it minimises waste by managing stock levels and offering attractive discounts on products that are approaching their best before date. Then, any surplus food that is safe to eat is donated to charities and community organisations.
  • Sainsbury’s stores are each responsible for making local arrangement for the donation of any unwanted food. The company encourages organisations who seek donations to contact local stores for information.
  • Waitrose has taken a fresh approach to reducing waste in its supply chain. Like Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s, its shops and depots are making arrangements with local organisations to donate unwanted food. However, it has also embarked on a campaign to portray goods previously considered unsalable in a positive light. This is the theme behind its new ‘a little less than perfect’ range of class two vegetables. These misshapen or blemished vegetables are perfectly edible, however have cosmetic imperfections. The playful branding and lower prices make them an attractive option for shoppers, allowing Waitrose to cut waste whilst profiting from goods which have hitherto been disposed of.

What’s Your Story?

Are you a food retailer taking action to cut food waste? Please leave us a comment telling us what you’re doing to make a difference.

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