“Waste not, want not,” was a guiding principle of our grandparents’ generation, but it’s never been more relevant today. In a world of diminishing resources, retailers have a responsibility not only to trade sustainably, but also to help our customers to live sustainably too.
Forgive the pun, but a lot of rubbish has been said in the past few weeks about food industry waste. The UK leads the world in ensuring that there is as little waste as possible in food supply chains. Comparing the UK’s food waste to other, less efficient countries is misleading — we waste less and get more out of our supply chain. We shouldn’t be penalised for that.
Retailers hate waste — it doesn’t make sense when you’re running a supermarket. Eliminating wasted food is the key to a good supply chain, not because of government incentives but because it’s good business, good for our customers budgets, good for keeping our costs down,and good for communities.
We follow a clear set of principles on waste:
We “mark down” food nearing its use-by date.
If we can’t sell it, we give it away. Food that is safe to eat is redistributed to charities, food banks and community groups. We were the first supermarket to address food poverty on a national scale when we co-founded the charity Fareshare more than 20 years ago, and in 2012 we donated the equivalent of nine million meals.
If we can’t use it to feed people, we feed animals. Our Knowsley store sends unsold bananas to the local safari park for the monkeys and stale bread is made into dog biscuits.
Finally, if it can’t be used as food, we turn it into fuel through anaerobic digestion. From carrot tops to corn-on-the-cob husks, there’s power in the bits of crops we don’t eat.
This approach helped Sainsbury’s to stop sending any food waste to landfill in 2010 (and we extended this to all types of waste last year).
But most food waste occurs at home and we are helping customers to waste less there too. We help them to make their shopping go further through campaigns such as Love Your Leftovers (complete with free Tupperware) and now Sainsbury’s Food Rescue, which devises recipes based on what they tell us is lurking at the back of their fridge.
Like us, our customers hate waste. So we’re working hard to ensure that we all live well but waste less.
This op ed first appeared in The Times on 13 June 2014, titled ‘We are fighting waste in our stores and in your homes.’