What we're doing to help cut food waste

Mark Little
Mark Little
Head of Food Sustainability, Sourcing and Waste Policy

My personal top ten food waste innovations from the last year from across the business and some of our suppliers.

Eighteen months ago we announced our ambition to lead in reducing global food waste. As one of the world’s largest food retailers, we thought it was wrong that so much of the world’s food is being wasted – according to the UN, up to a third of the world’s food each year.

Not only is this putting massive pressure on our resources and the environment, but frankly it costs the world a vast amount of money – according to some estimates, the equivalent of around £466 billion annually. In other words: around half the GDP of Spain.

Worse still, one of the biggest areas of waste is our own homes. For example, we know that food waste in the UK is costing families around £700 every year. As one customer told us: “that’s the cost of a family holiday”.

We want to make it easier for everyone to reduce food waste – customers, colleagues and suppliers – and we believe that it’s our responsibility as a global retailer to take a lead.

So over the last year, it’s been my job to help develop our strategy, working with our commercial, technical and marketing teams. Importantly, the way we’ve approached the issue is by doing what we as a retailer have always done best: lots of little improvements to make a big difference.

We started by understanding exactly where and why key food products are being wasted – and now we’re developing solutions to reduce that waste. Here are my own personal top ten food waste innovations from the last year from across the business and some of our suppliers. You can find more ways to waste less food, and save money, here.

1. Love Food, Hate Waste packaging. One big change we’ve made recently is to redesign our packaging on key produce lines to include food waste tips. These tips are drawn from the UK’s Waste Reduction Action Programme (WRAP) and their Love Food, Hate Waste programme – and they range from storing apples in loosely tied plastic bags in a fridge, through to storing spinach in plastic containers lined with a paper towel and a tight fitting lid.

2. Moving from “BOGOFs” to mix & match promotions. We know that customers have been concerned that some marketing promotions can encourage more food waste. To tackle this, we have not run any “Buy One, Get One Free” promotions in fruit and veg since April. Instead we have been focusing on multibuy offers which span a broad range of products, such as our 3 for 2 offer on our herbs and ingredients range, or the 3 for £4 on speciality veg. We’re also been running targeted price promotions, with our Prices Down, Staying Down campaign targeting core salad and vegetable products to help reduce waste in these lines. By taking this approach – multibuy promotions across a range of products, alongside price promotions, customers can get both value for money and more variety.

3. Leftover Tool. We all know there are times when we open the fridge and find food that’s close to its use by date – but we have absolutely no idea what to make with it. To help reduce waste at home, we’ve added a Love Food, Hate Waste section to our Real Food website with tips on how to reduce waste. A key part of that is the leftover tool – where you can enter the ingredients you need to use from your fridge and pick out the recipes you like.

4. Publishing our own Food Waste data. As well as helping customers waste less food, we are offering more transparency about waste within our operations. Thanks to research from WRAP, we know that the volume of retail food waste represents a small proportion of the overall level of food waste. And last year we published food waste data for our own UK operations, which showed that less than 1% of our stocked food was wasted last year. We are the first retailer to make these data public.

5. Food Surplus Donations. Where there is food which we source but can’t sell, we do everything we can to put it to good use. A key part of that are our food surplus donations. In Poland, 48 stores have been donating to food banks since September 2013, providing around 545 tonnes of food – equivalent to over 1 million meals. In the UK, we have donated over 1,000 tonnes of surplus food from our sites and fresh distribution centres to FareShare since September 2012 – enough to provide over 2.3 million meals

Poeple donating food

6. Foodcloud partnership. In Ireland many local food banks find it challenging to know where and when surplus food is available from local businesses. To help solve this problem, we have formed a partnership with an organisation called foodcloud who have developed an app which allows businesses to upload details of excess food. Through this partnership, we will be sending all surplus food from our 146 stores in Ireland to community groups and charities.

7. Food Waste Product Profiles. To understand exactly where and why food is being wasted, we have developed farm-to-fork food waste profiles for over 25 of our most popular food products. These profiles have identified specifically where food is being wasted at each stage of the value chain. With each product we are applying our skills and expertise to work with suppliers to develop innovations which reduce waste where it occurs.

Food waste diagram

8. No banana left behind. We want to make sure no edible part of the banana crop is wasted, which is why we have taken steps to ensure smaller bananas and unusually shaped bananas are used in our Everyday Value and Goodness ranges. We also process bananas, including into milkshakes. At the same time, we have built long-term relationships with 12 South American farms who grow and pack all of their bananas to Tesco. This work has led to the farmers we work with seeing significant reductions in their waste figures. For example our farms in Costa Rica reported that waste reduced from 10% in 2011 to 4% in 2013.

9. Direct sourcing in Thailand. To reduce waste in vegetable products in Thailand, we have developed a new partnership with our supplier PranFresh. By improving product standards at plantations and moving to more direct sourcing, the rejection rate at farms has been reduced and quality has improved. In addition, the delivery process has been shortened and product freshness has been extended.

10. Food Waste Vines. Finally, today we’re launching a series of five, six second films to share some basic tips on what we can all do to help reduce food waste. Check out the films by following this link:

You may also like