Philip Clarke addresses the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) in Copenhagen

21 Oct 2013

Philip Clarke addresses the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) in Copenhagen

I’ve been told that some people might be a little surprised to see the chief executive of a major retailer at a seminar like this. It certainly is a new experience for me. But the truth is it is an absolute privilege to stand alongside such a group of international experts.

And let me start by briefly explaining why food waste matters to me.

Tesco is one of world’s largest food retailers. Each week, we help serve over 75 million shopping trips. We have over 500,000 colleagues, more than 6000 stores in 12 countries and work with suppliers in over 70 countries.

So being able to buy, move and sell food sustainably is at the very heart of what we do.

But the fact that so much food is going to waste each year isn’t just bad for the environment. According to WRAP 15 million tonnes of food is discarded each year in the UK and four million tonnes of that is perfectly edible.

Oxfam estimate that one billion people go to bed at night hungry. So we all have to get smarter about the way we source, sell and store food at home. And that’s where reducing food waste comes in as the foundation of a bigger, longer-term plan to secure sustainable supplies of food for future generations.

It is blindingly obvious why we need to reduce food waste. The announcements we’ve already heard today are good news for everyone.

I fully endorse the on-going work by the United Nations on tackling Food Waste, particularly their campaign:  Think.Eat.Save. Three words which sum up neatly the opportunity for us all.

Everything we’ve heard today shows that this problem reaches wider than any single country, government or organisation.  Co-ordinated action and collaboration holds the key for making gains.  And that brings me to what Tesco is doing.

When I said earlier this year that Tesco wanted to lead in reducing food waste, I wasn’t just talking about reducing food waste in our own operations.  I meant making a difference from the farmer’s field to the customer’s fridge, and beyond.

As the world’s third largest retailer, we sit at the heart of the value chain, giving us both a crucial vantage point and a shared responsibility to act far beyond the doors of our stores. We are working with suppliers to find ways to waste less food in agriculture, processing and distribution. We are doing this by developing a truly end-to-end approach to our supply chain.

We also want to help our customers waste less food at home and, in doing so, save money by improving the way we sell, package and label food. That 15 million tonnes discarded each year in the UK translates to £700 for each British family and we want to help them keep that money in their pockets rather than throwing it in the bin. And we will do this in two ways:

  •  by helping raise awareness of where we know good food is being wasted
  •  by sharing tips with customers about how to look after food and getting more from their shop

So our role, as you can see, is wide-ranging:

We have lots of work underway with suppliers and customers, and we call on all businesses to do more.

Collaboration and alignment will make a difference, but we know we can go further – in developing our plans we have identified three areas in particular where we think we can make a substantial and unique difference: Data, to give real insight. Innovation, applying action where it matters. And collaboration across the value chain, to align and amplify efforts in order to maximise gains

In the time I have left this afternoon, let me say a few words about each.

DATA

The first principle is all about the power of data.

The right data can help focus effort on doing the right things for your customers – and that is good for business. That’s why, today, we’re doing something very important.

We’re publishing data detailing the levels of food waste in our own operations in the UK.  The figures and the way they have been measured have been independently assured.

I know this is something campaigners have been calling for food retailers to do for some time. We are the first major retailer to make these figures public in this way – and I hope this sets the standard for other players in the industry.  As you can see, in the first six months of 2013, 28,500 tonnes of food were wasted within our stores and distribution centres in the UK.

Although this is a relatively small proportion of the 15 million tonnes of food which is thought to be wasted in the UK each year, it is still far too high and I am committed to minimising it. We feel that wasting this amount of food when a billion people go to bed hungry every night is unacceptable.

So we are already putting in place new processes to root this out.  We’ll also continue to measure and set targets. We commit to find ways to share our findings with all interested groups – including the organisations here today, as well as businesses, campaigners, academics and social entrepreneurs.

Sharing data is important because it helps others to find ways to tackle the issue.  But it is also important because it helps us build strategies to reduce our food waste.  And that is where the second part of our plan comes in.

INNOVATION

When you look at the data it becomes clear very quickly that there are specific areas where changes can be made and greater efficiency is needed.

We are therefore putting in place new processes to minimise the food wasted in our stores, particularly in hotspots such as bakery and fresh produce – which together account for 62% of the waste we have measured in our UK stores.

We are also doing away with ‘display until’ codes on fresh fruit and vegetables moving to a single ‘best before’ date – which we know reduces waste in store and is preferred by customers. We have started selling fruit and vegetables in smaller cases as this reduces waste in our slower selling products.

More generally, we have developed innovative ways to balance having enough fresh food available in store with minimising the risk of food going to waste.  This includes ordering systems integrated with weather forecasts and automated promotions planning – which work right down to individual store level.

These are just snapshots, but they demonstrate the way we are tackling in-store hotspots and are encouraging our colleagues to find ways to try to eliminate them.  We’re using this approach and our learning, to roll-out out metrics and best practice to our other markets.

COLLABORATION                          

That brings me to the last – but most important – part of our plan.

We know it’s not enough to tackle food waste in our own operations. Altogether around one third of food produced in the UK for consumption here is wasted.  Retailers only account for 3% of food waste in the value chain. That’s why we’ve been looking at new ways of working with both producers and customers. After all, as the data shows, this is where the majority of food waste occurs.

Once again, we’re using data and insight to drive innovation.  We’re tackling this by focusing on the 25 most frequently purchased food items which go through our tills.  We know small reductions in food waste will rapidly make a big difference in reducing overall waste levels.

Over the last six months, my team of experts have put together food waste footprints from the farmers’ field to the customer’s bin. We’ve worked with a range of suppliers and experts across the globe, including WRAP. The output is really simple, but it gives great steer on where to act.

For example, take bananas.

Bananas are one of our most popular food products and on average we sell four million kilograms a week in the UK.  We have a direct supply chain for all of our bananas which means we can work with suppliers to find ways to use all of their crop.

We now know that from farm-to-fork, a fifth of the total production of bananas is wasted. The waste hotspot is around the processing, the retailing and in the home. The big challenge here is after the ripening where bananas go from green to yellow. As bananas ripen they go soft – so are susceptible to spoiling.

So what we’ve been doing is improving the way we track and transport bananas using a new state of the art system that keeps a better check on temperature to make sure that bananas aren’t damaged in freight or on the road. We’ve also run a “love bananas” campaign with colleagues to show them how to handle bananas better.

And one of our neatest innovations is that we’ve brought in hammocks for bananas in our stores so that bananas are displayed in safer and more protective way.  We are also tackling the hotspots we have identified with grapes which we know have a total waste footprint of 24%.

We are introducing messaging on our packaging, on line and integrated into customer communications to remind customers that grapes, as well as other frequently bought fruits like apples, will last longer in the fridge.

Finally, bagged salad is hugely popular with customers as it is healthy and convenient.  However our footprint work shows that producing these salads can be incredibly wasteful.  For every bag of salad we sell, one and a half bags have to be produced and of that one bag sold, only half is consumed.  Overall, it represents a staggering 68% waste level.

Clearly this needs action, so we’re changing the way we sell bagged salad to help our customers waste less of it.  As a result, we will no longer sell multi-buy promotions on larger packs, but instead offer price discounts.

We’re also innovating and are introducing re-sealable bags, starting with shredded iceberg lettuce, as well as expanding twin packs which offer smaller portions that last longer over several days.

In these ways and others in the basket, we’ll be making more targeted changes in the future, focusing on the hotspots where we need action most.

And if we get this right, the small changes can make a big, lasting difference across the supply chain. And we can apply this to more foods allowing us to work in collaboration with more partners on reducing the main causes of food waste.

So I hope you can see we’ve made a good start on our ambition. But of course, this is going to be a long journey. For me, one of the really exciting things about the work we are doing is that if we get this right and start to make lasting changes, the effect won’t just be positive.

We can actually have an exponential impact encouraging others to raise their game and be more efficient across the value chain.

The new Protocol and forthcoming UN Guidance which we’ve talked about today will both be vital weapons, so I hope will be our new food waste metrics - which I have shared for the first time today.

And if we keep working together in the way we’ve been talking about today we can strike a major blow in the global war on food waste.  

Thank you very much for listening.

For more information please contact the Tesco Press Office on
01992 644645

We are a team of over 530,000 people in 12 markets dedicated to bringing the best value, choice and service to our millions of customers each week. Our core purpose is 'we make what matters better, together'.