I have recently returned from Leros, Greece where I was volunteering with a group of friends to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. We arrived at the island ready to help and armed with donations gathered from very generous friends, family and colleagues.
We agreed that upon arrival we would assess the situation before deciding where to allocate our funds: water, clothing, sanitation or food. It became very apparent, very quickly, that the biggest requirement on the ground was food. We put a strategy in place to maximise the money we had whilst at the same time providing nutritious meals for these individuals who were often going days without eating.
Day after day, as I served breakfast, lunch and dinner, the realisation hit me that we are all, irrespective of our situation or location, driven by the contents of our stomach. A full stomach is happy and rational, an empty stomach is fuelled by desperation and anger and will not see reason.
What a waste…
On the journey home I read in the news that a French law has been passed which bans supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, instead forcing them to donate it to charities and food banks and I was delighted with this step in the right direction. However, whilst this is fantastic news it is disappointing that we are in 2016 and so few countries are exploring this.
As a Supplier Engagement Consultant, I work with retailers and their suppliers and was intrigued to understand what the UK supermarkets are currently doing in respect of food waste.
Food waste pledge
According to UK sustainability charity WRAP, in the UK alone we throw away 12 million tonnes of food across households, the hospitality industry, food manufacturing and retail each year. That is the equivalent of £19 billion. How is it possible to justify this waste when there are situations like that in Greece happening all over the globe?
As the passing of the French law received more and more media coverage, here in the UK, several supermarkets have food waste reduction projects underway. Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda all recently pledged to cut food waste by 20% by 2025.
There are a number of ways that supermarkets can cut food waste, including:
- Using more sustainable sources
- Becoming more efficient at producing the goods in the first place
- Trying to encourage people to waste less in the home
- Finding ways to make better use of surplus and waste food
Supply chain transparency
Campaigners like Dan Cluderay of Approved Food have said there are “epic issues further up the supply chain”. This is in reference to the millions of tonnes of food that is wasted at the manufacturing level. Interestingly for a country where the majority of food (net, by value) is imported, all food wasted overseas in the UK supermarkets’ supply chains is left off the books. This waste is in large part due to it not fitting the stringent cosmetic requirements of supermarkets.
Mark Varney, Director of Food at FareShare, said the main thing that stops food manufacturers from giving their edible surplus food to charity is cost.
There have been suggestions made that if the government stepped in and supported the initiative by incentivising it for manufacturers and supermarkets, there would be an overwhelming difference in participation.
Leading the way towards less food waste
Supermarkets have recently stepped up their efforts:
- Asda became the first UK supermarket to offer a 'wonky vegetable’ box, containing enough “cosmetically uncompliant” ugly potatoes and knobbly carrots etc to feed a family of four for an entire week for just £3.50.
- Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, has announced it will be scrapping multi-buy promotions across its food retail outlets in an effort to ease growing food waste concerns.
- Tesco has become a founding member of the cross-sector Champions 12.3 coalition, which aims to accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – halving food waste per capita and reducing food losses by 2030.
The heart that gives, gathers
The Greek people opened up their hearts and country for the refugees. I can see the supermarkets slowly starting to do the same thing for homelessness and charities and whilst the cynic in me would say this is a forced PR exercise in response to the passing of the recent French law, the humanitarian in me doesn’t care, so long as something is being done to cut waste and help those in need.
The retail-savvy consumer in me would say that supermarkets would be missing an opportunity by not listening to what we the customers are telling them is important to us. And I for one can say that I am not alone in my concerns relating to the products that I buy. In fact, a recent report by Deloitte, Capitalizing on the shifting consumer food value equation, highlights this shift in consumer purchase drivers.
Where previously the traditional main drivers for purchase were price, taste and convenience, this has now changed to include evolving drivers around health and wellness, safety, social impact and experience. Underpinning all of these drivers is transparency.
In their report, Deloitte have stated that social impact encompasses company attributes such as local sourcing, sustainability, animal welfare, and fair treatment of employees. The number of consumers reporting strong social impact preferences is currently small, but represents a loud and vocal group that can sway public opinion. Companies must identify which issues and drivers offer the most opportunity or represent the greatest risk, and when to lead vs. when to follow.
At S4RB we work with private brand retailers and their suppliers to bring everything about their products, including customer feedback, together into ‘One View’ of product performance. This allows private brand teams to identify consumer demands such as the emerging trends above, gaining meaningful insights which can be acted on to help deliver competitive products which drive customer satisfaction.