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Continuing to cut food waste to tackle the climate emergency

Ken Murphy
Ken Murphy
Group Chief Executive

With just over month to go until the landmark UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26, climate and emissions are high on the agenda. But, incomprehensibly, the role food waste plays is not, even though the 2.5 billion tonnes of food thrown away each year contribute 9 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than most countries. Unless we stop wasting good food at current levels, we will fatally undermine our ability to achieve the goals of COP26 and tackle the climate emergency.

Six years ago, this month, the UN set a food loss and waste reduction target as part of its Sustainable Development Goals. This target, SDG 12.3, calls on the world to halve per capita food waste by 2030. Once this target was set, a group of leaders asked how we could help motivate action to achieve it and Champions 12.3 was formed – a coalition of more than 30 senior leaders from governments, businesses, international organisations, research institutions, and civil society.

Tesco was a founding member of this group. Together, we are calling for every country and company involved in the food supply chain to commit to SDG 12.3. To quantify and report publicly on their food loss and waste and take urgent action. We call this the Target Measure Act approach, and we urge more companies and government to adopt it, including in nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement.  

At Tesco we continue to work with our suppliers to report annual food loss and waste data from all aspects of our businesses. As part of our commitment to halve food waste across our entire operations by 2030, we have worked to implement the Champions 12.3 Target Measure Act framework across our own operations and, since 2018, our global suppliers have too. Today, 79 of our suppliers are now reporting their food loss and waste annually, an 11 per cent increase since last year.

To date, we have collectively reduced food loss and waste by 178,000 tonnes. And this year, 15 of our global growers have reported food waste and loss data at farm level too. This is a first for any retailer in the UK and something I am immensely proud of. Reporting on-farm food loss and waste is a big step forward as it not only helps to reduce food waste at the stage where is it most prevalent but also provides an integrated view of how field losses are related to packhouse food waste across global growers.

The last 18 months have been challenging for our suppliers. They have had to juggle the effects of the COVID pandemic on their workforces, harvesting schedules, packhouse capacity and unpredictable consumer demand. But they have remained committed to doing everything they can to reduce the amount of food loss and waste. Across the 79 global suppliers who have reported food loss and waste data this year, 60% have reported reductions, ranging from less than 1% and 96% relative to baseline reporting.

One of these growers, A Gomez, have supplied Tesco with fresh produce like tomatoes, peppers and courgettes for the last 50 years, and have, this year, begun measuring the food loss and waste across their farms, to help tackle the issue at the earliest stage of production. Since reporting data for food waste and loss in their UK packhouses, A Gomez have reported a 91% reduction in waste, thanks to an expanded partnership with the food redistribution charity, FareShare, participation in Tesco ‘perfectly imperfect’ initiative, and by using blemished or damaged produce in their newly developed chopped and pre-prepared lines.  These initiatives mean that they are able to process the entire crop their packhouses receive from the farm.

On-farm, they select varieties of produce that are efficient and sustainable as well as use innovative growing technologies to optimise crop performance and minimise loss. Any produce that is deemed unsuitable for human consumption, is processed using anaerobic digesters or at composting facilities. The business has introduced more efficient, direct deliveries to minimise the time it takes for produce to go from farm to the shelf and are trialling new packaging solutions to keep produce fresher for longer.

Another example is Brop Slovakia, the leading supplier of potatoes to Tesco stores in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. They also supply onions, cabbage, garlic, carrots and parsley. Since 2019, Brop have committed to implementing Target Measure Act as part of their overall strategy to tackle food waste. They focus on prevention by optimising growing and harvesting processes to ensure their vegetables reach their customers as fresh as possible, in the shortest possible time.

To maximise the amount of fresh produce available, they sell their ‘wonky’ vegetables as part of our ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ range. Tesco has also worked with the team at Brop to develop a new line of potatoes available to Central European customers called ‘baby potatoes’, which makes use of the small potatoes that are often left in the fields after harvest. For crops unsuitable for human consumption, they work with local partners to use normally wasted produce in animal feed or for use in anaerobic digestion to generate electricity. Since their first year of reporting in 2019, Brop have seen a total reduction in their food waste of 13%.

In Peru, La Calera Agricola, is also leading the way in implementing Target Measure Act across their packhouses and on-farm. Since 1999, La Calera have supplied Tesco stores in the UK with fresh produce such as citrus fruits, grapes, mangoes, pomegranates, and avocados. This is the first year they have measured waste levels on-farm but are focussing on prevention through implementing better agricultural management and crop handling and via upskilling employees with more efficient harvesting techniques to minimise crop damage.

Over the last year, they have, like many other of our global producers been affected by Covid-19 restrictions but this hasn’t stopped them. They have diversified their offering by opening a canning facility to make more use of Class II and Class III fruits.  In 2020 they were able to can over 14,000 tonnes of mandarins, which could’ve ended up as waste. They are also continuing to heavily invest in new packing and cooling lines to minimise mechanical damage and increase shelf life.

These are just some of the ways our suppliers are implementing Target Measure Act and they are inspiring more of our suppliers to follow. Earlier this year we published a major report into Food Waste and Loss at farm level. This showed that we cannot turn the tide on food waste alone, sustained global action across supply chains in both developed and developing economies is essential. With less than ten years to go until the UN’s 2030 deadline, we need the Government to put the spotlight on this issue, especially at the much-ignored farm-stage, and engage the entire food supply chain in halving food waste at every stage.  And we need our retailer peers to join us on this mission, so no good food ever goes to waste.

Here are a selection of case studies from suppliers that explain their approach to tackling food waste.

AM Fresh 

La Calera Agrícola

Terra Natura international

Westfalia Fruit Group

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