The UK discards some 14.8 million tonnes of food waste every year, particularly in the wake of the recent COVID-19 lockdown. The population’s reduced food expenditure on food products such as frozen cheese, ready-to-eat meals, and pre-cut vegetables has led to increased levels of food waste. Supermarkets and grocery stores such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s have already started taking steps to tackle food waste.
The food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £76.7bn. As of 2020, there are around 10,000 food and drink manufacturing sites that collectively produce 3.2m tonnes of wasted food.
Interestingly, most of this can potentially be recycled at different points through the food supply chain. Here are some ideas that grocers can take up to manage their food waste efficiently:
1. Eliminating wasteful store practices
Traditionally, grocers tend to have high aesthetic standards for their produce and often discard fruits and vegetables for being the wrong size or for having uneven surfaces. To address this, grocery brands such as Morrisons and Asda started selling vegetables that are “wonky” in appearance at reduced prices in 2018.
Other chains like Sainsbury’s are selling foodstuffs that are past their sell-by date but still edible, to charities.
Another area that supermarkets can address regarding waste reductions is product labelling – by modifying the ‘best before’ dates to reflect the actual timelines within which food can be consumed, they can prevent the food from being prematurely discarded.
2. Partnering with farmers
A great deal of food waste by grocery retailers can be eliminated if they work closely with the farmers from whom they source fresh food. Grocery retailers can not only supply farmers with accurate forecasts of how much food will be needed but also help them with improved techniques and knowledge to boost farm productivity.
For instance, following a poor spring, Sainsbury’s partnered with farmers in 2015 to extend the UK lamb season by five weeks and thus allowed the lambs to reach full maturity.
This helped to boost the availability of lamb for UK customers and also prevented potential losses for the farms. Again, Marks & Spencer works with its farmers to share their surplus food stocks with food charities instead of letting them go to waste.
3. Upgrading inventories with modern technology and practices
By setting metrics concerning food waste and tracking those with the help of automation, grocery retailers can minimise wastage of perishable items and keep inventories at an optimum level at all times.
For instance, they can examine their inventory practices and ensure that they don’t pile up produce in stock bins, leading to more waste. Grocers can discover new ways to display the produce while keeping stock levels low and successfully save money every year.
Other ways to streamline inventory practices include the use of software to input store layouts, so that product deliveries are organised according to shelving sequence, allowing supermarkets to do away with intermediaries and directly move goods from warehouses to retail floors.
4. Selling upcycled food products at high prices
Another way to make good use of wonky-looking fruits and vegetables is to repurpose them into products that health-conscious consumers will pay a premium for, as they do with organic and vegan food. This is called ‘upcycling’ and has the dual benefit of reducing food waste and of helping food retailers and manufacturers earn more profit.
For instance, Now Foods creates vitamin supplements from waste produce material like orange peels, and Barnana sells snacks that are made from overripe bananas.
An excellent way to promote these products is to have a separate aisle or refrigerator in the store for these ‘upcycled’ foods (as there would be for gluten-free or dairy-free foods) so that health-conscious and pro-recycling consumers know where to go.
5. Deploy innovative technologies to convert food waste into power
We at Waste2ES believe food waste is a valuable resource that should never end up in landfill sites. It is vital to have the best-optimised return logistic processes in places, but food waste is an ongoing issue – mainly as it tends to be mixed and contains packaging. Its removal is costly, as well.
By deploying innovative technologies to reduce food waste such as our iD-R-5K Compact Anaerobic Digestion system, grocers can convert their high-volume food waste into energy (and revenue), sustainably and ethically.
Our i-FDR depackaging system eliminates the need for separating packaged and unpackaged food and provides a perfect solution for busy supermarkets.
Even though these systems require investment and behavioural change, they help in significantly improving the outcomes for food waste. That is how the food manufacturing sector is making enormous strides in diverting material ‘from’ landfill. Do you want to know more about our iD-R systems? Please contact us.
As grocery retailers take up a more strategic approach towards waste management and partner more closely with their suppliers and intermediaries in the distribution chain, food waste can be minimised, and sustainable eating and purchasing habits can be adopted throughout the community at large. What are your thoughts on reducing food waste?