Procurement must change to cut food waste

Governments, businesses and farmers need to adopt new measures to “fix an inefficient food system” caused by poor food management and inflexible procurement requirements, according to a report.

The report, Reducing Food Loss and Waste: setting a global agenda, by the World Resources Institute (WRI), with support from public and private organisations, has provided steps that those within the supply chain need to take to identify where food is being lost or wasted and how to reduce it.

In the past few years, some supermarkets have been marketing misshapen produce differently to reduce waste, such as Tesco’s “Perfectly Imperfect” range and Morrisons’ “Wonky fruit and veg” range. However, the report stressed that more progress needs to be made to meet the United Nation’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). WRI has called for governments and companies to adopt a goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. 

It has been recommended that public and private institutions, such as schools and hospitals, should introduce improved inventory management and procurement practices to better fit needs. 

Policymakers are also highlighted as having a role in the food system that can make an impact by including food waste reduction training in public procurement programmes and school curriculums, said the report.

“The annual market value of lost and wasted food is estimated at $940bn globally, and equates to more than 1bn metric tons of food per year.”

The WRI report proposed 10 “scaling interventions” that combine with the recommended actions for individuals in the food supply chain to make up a “Global Action Agenda”. 

These include the development of national strategies which align public and private sector actions and buyer and supplier behaviour, an increase in public-private partnerships to achieve SDGs, introduction of a supply chain initiative to ensure businesses commit to recommendations, and more support for small suppliers to reduce waste. 

Other recommendations include collaborative efforts to increase infrastructure through smart technology and storage, a shift in culture to raise awareness, and increased funding and research programmes. 

In the report, the tomato food chain in Mexico is mapped as an example showing that there is a lack of refrigerator infrastructure during transportation between farmers and the market, and the market and restaurants. This leads to deterioration of produce and further waste. 

Waste also occurs at the production stage at farms as tomatoes which are not harvested or lost are discarded as they don’t meet “inflexible procurement requirements”. Issues with contractual practices, such as last-minute order changes or quality and appearance, often result in food being wasted. 

“An underlying driver occurring during one stage of the food supply chain may result in the actual food loss and waste occurring at a different stage,” according to the report. 

Inadequate food management early in the chain at the handling or production stages can also lead to food being rejected by buyers due to procurement requirements. 

“While some procurement requirements may reduce the amount of unusable food that is sent further down the supply chain, other requirements may result in nutritious, edible food exiting the human food supply chain,” said the report. 

Poor forecasting and communication between the buyer and supplier can also lead to problems with inventory management or surplus produce at the consumption stage. 

The sub-Saharan Africa region produces the most food loss or waste at the production and handling and storage stage of the food supply chain compared to other regions, according to the report. Meanwhile, North America and Oceania makes the most at the consumption stage.

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