How can retailers tackle food waste?

As data reveals that food waste in UK retail is increasing, many retailers are adopting new initiatives to tackle the issue. Retail Gazette speaks to experts to find out how retailers can combat food waste effectively amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

As data reveals that food waste in UK retail is increasing, many retailers are adopting new initiatives to tackle the issue. Retail Gazette speaks to experts on how retailers can combat food waste effectively amid the pandemic.
"Food waste has certainly increased." - Jason Webb.

Budgens recently announced it would expand its partnership with the surplus food app Too Good To Go, in a bid to fight the growing issue of food waste. It made it the latest of hundreds of retailers across the UK to have signed up to work with the app last year, which marked was a significant rise on 2019.

Now, as non-essential retailers continue to focus on recovery and reopening schemes after the recent lockdown, why are more grocers and food-to-go retailers prioritising food waste?

“At the end of the day, food waste does not just have an environmental impact, but also a financial one,” explained Charlie Humphries, brand manager at Karma, an app which allows restaurants and cafes to sell their surplus food.

“For every item you throw in the bin, there is lost revenue”

“Not just on the food itself but also the time spent preparing it by staff in store and beyond.

“Perhaps previously retailers were able to account for a certain level of lost revenue as a result of waste.

“But the last year has squeezed business to a point at which they can no longer ignore waste.

“Combine that with growing consumer consciousness around sustainability and how to support the environment through their purchasing power – and I can see why more retailers have introduced food waste solutions.”

Aldi corporate responsibility managing director Fritz Walleczek told Retail Gazette that food and plastic waste went hand in hand, and that they were both “crucial” issues.

Retail Insight chief executive Paul Boyle added that retailers were becoming more proactive in their sustainability efforts, notably their approach to reducing food waste in order to deliver against important CSR and sustainability targets.

“Some grocers have expanded their efforts throughout the pandemic, such as Waitrose’s pledge to redistribute food waste and Asda’s greener price promise,” he said.

“In the middle of a global health crisis, seeing retailers persist with CSR initiatives is a beacon of hope for the future despite current difficulties the industry faces.”

Hannah McCollum, founder and owner of ChicP Hummus, Dips & Veggie Bites, said retailers could use technology to eliminate food waste.

“Retailers can use technology that helps the buyers predict more accurately what is needed on the shelf, especially for the chilled sector,” she told Retail Gazette.

“There needs to be more measures in place to penalise food waste so that there is less waste and less over ordering.

“Consumers need to have an understanding (and this can come from the retailers), that a shelf which is packed full of produce is not always sustainable – if the shelves are being stacked just to make it appealing, this is another cause for food waste.

“We need to shop more consciously rather than just with our eyes and it would be wonderful if the retailers can play a part in making their consumers aware of this.

“More retailers can donate to food charities and food waste apps and more food can be put in the reduced aisle.

“There are still many retailers who don’t use the reduced aisle/shelf properly as they think it is degrading to their brand.”

Jason Webb, director at Electronic Temperature Instruments, added that the objective for retailers should be how to maximise the life of products in storage.

Storing food correctly can increase the length of time food,” he explained.

“This can depend on the right temperature or humidity, both of which have an impact on the life of the product.

“Critical temperature control is a key area where businesses can increase the life of their products very easily.

“Keeping products stored in the correct environment will dramatically increase the life of the product.

“Maintaining this by using good equipment and good thermometers to maintain confidence that these temperatures are being met are key.”

Despite the obvious positives from apps specialising in food waste, there can be downsides.

Too Good To Go and Karma offers similar feature to the consumer where the consumer gets discounted food from the retailers,” said Somdip Dey, founder of Nosh.

“In most regions or cities or towns these two apps are really popular because the retailers benefits from selling their food surplus (waste) and the consumer gets yummy food at discount.

“However, there could be some places where the consumers are not really into fast food or the consumers prefer to eat at home.

“In such communities, as a retailer using TGTG or Karma to redistribute the food surplus (waste) might not be effective.

“So, the retailers might have to choose other options to do something about the food surplus (waste) such as composting or sharing with food banks or people-in-need.”

As the UK continues to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, has the level of food waste changed?

According to Retail Insight, the total waste bills at UK supermarkets in 2021 will be over £2.4 billion, with 43 per cent of this being liable for donation or the bin. Separate data from Wrap also revealed that food waste in UK retail was still increasing, despite overall levels falling.

“Clearly, there is still a lot more that consumers and retailers can do in order to reach targets and drive further sustainability and CSR initiatives,” Boyle said.

Paschalis Loucaides, UK managing director, at Too Good To Go, said: “In Europe five per cent of food waste occurs at retail and wholesale level and this is five per cent we can’t afford to ignore any longer.”

As sustainability continues to gain importance on retailer’s agendas, how have food waste apps changed how businesses tackle food waste? Humphries hopes apps will help retailers to feel they are not on their own when trying to deal with the complex issue that is food waste.

“By offering a ready-made platform and audience of people who are willing to purchase surplus food at a discounted rate – we can help to manage that waste for them,” he said.

“In the future our ambition is to not only help with redistribution but through the data we collect also to help them tackle the root cause of the problem – managing footfall and levels of production.”

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