The UK government has warned supermarkets that they face penalties if they fail to substantially tackle the problem of food waste. And rightly so, with reports suggesting an estimated 10.2 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK – and at a time of rising dependence on food banks, and concerns regarding our environmental responsibilities. The question, of course, is how can this be done?
The answer is that seriously reducing food waste requires a collaborative effort along the entire food supply chain – from producers, to suppliers, to supermarkets and retailers, right through to consumers. Here’s how.
Numerous in-store practices, from promotions to packaging, have an important role to play in the reduction of waste. For example BOGOF (buy one get one free) offers have long been criticised for their links to food waste, encouraging consumers to buy more than they need – which then encourages retailers to buy more than they need too. Eliminating wasteful promotions requires a two-pronged attack – retailers, of course, need to take direct responsibility – but so too do shoppers, who can have an enormous influence on retailer behaviour. It is worth remembering that we are all consumers, and can all play a small role in shifting the food retail culture away from excess and towards greater sustainability.
A shift to zero-waste sales practices, whereby customers bring their own packaging or containers in store and purchase only the precise amount of each product that they require –with pricing models that support this – has a dramatic impact on levels of wastage both in-store and at home. Suma Wholefoods is an example of a business that is embracing this strategy successfully.
A number of charitable organisations, such as FareShare and FoodCycle, are working actively to reduce food waste by redistributing it to those in need, via charities, food banks and community groups. To be as effective as possible, such organisations need to be able to form close, efficient partnerships with supermarkets and other retailers, so that unsold or unsellable food can be redirected into charitable efforts as rapidly as possible. The faster this happens; the less food is wasted. The challenge for national retailers and supermarkets is to establish these partnerships in a way that works on a store by store basis. In some cases – say smaller stores and those in town and city centres – it may be more effective to work with small local groups who can collect excess food little and often, whilst out-of-town superstores may be best-placed to work with national charities in a more large-scale way.
Clarity of communication
A significant cause of food waste is poor communication through the supply chain, so that suppliers are unaware that a promotion is either coming up or coming to an end, with a knock-on effect on demand. As such, clarity of communication up and down the supply chain is critical for food waste to be effectively tackled at the point of production. Increasingly, retailers and suppliers alike should look to hire dedicated waste management positions, who can focus dedicated resource and attention on collaborative efforts to cut down on waste.
Demand-driven supply chains
A shift to agile and intelligent supply chains that can be truly responsive to changing customer demands is essential if retailers, suppliers, producers and consumers are truly to work together to tackle food waste. Demand-driven supply chains use a combination of technology and human processes to place inventory buffers throughout the supply chain – which in turn enable a more rapid response to changing demand, reducing inventory and therefore potential food waste throughout for all parties across the supply chain.
Food waste is a national, or even an international problem, and it will not be solved by individuals or businesses acting alone. It requires a cooperative and collaborative approach, with businesses shifting their priorities towards sustainability, and different organisations working closely together to ensure smoother, smarter production and movement of food.
This really is a case of making a difference, together.
John Perry is managing director at SCALA, a management services provider for supply chain and logistics.