Food waste management tips for supermarkets

Did you know that one-third of all food produced today is never consumed? In the UK alone, the amount of food wasted every year would be enough for 15 billion meals – not to mention the resources consumed and the greenhouse gases emitted during the course of cultivating the food. What is worse is that most of this wasted food ends up in landfill, which pollutes the environment further!

The climate crisis is worse than ever, and the volatility of the UK economy means that more and more people will suffer from food insecurity in the years to come. Current estimates project, moreover, that we will have a global population of 9.7 billion to feed by 2050.

Supermarkets are often considered a big culprit in ineffective food waste management. Globally, the food wasted by them amounts to about £230 billion per year – but luckily, they can also play a significant role in solving it.

Food waste management tips for supermarkets

There are several food waste solutions for the grocery retail industry that supermarkets can leverage to tackle the food waste problem in 2023:

1. Do not discard imperfect produce

Even today, vast quantities of fruits and vegetables are thrown out because they do not “look” good, despite being perfectly fresh. An excellent way to combat this is by offering “wonky” produce at discounted rates, as some supermarkets and apps already do.

This saves edible food and ensures that the energy and resources spent on cultivating the food do not go to waste. Another trend is to “upcycle” those imperfect produce items into other products, such as smoothies, soups or fruit leather.

2. Train staff on food waste management

Often, supermarket staff members are not aware of the basic best practices that could help food last longer. Train them on how to stack and store food items (eg not putting heavy items on top of lighter ones), the importance of not breaking the cold chain (such as by making sure freezer doors are always properly shut) and how to store different types of groceries according to their freshness needs (eg in the freezer versus in a cool, dry place).

3. Manage “best-before” dates better

It is no longer a secret that the “best-before” dates on food labels do not necessarily indicate the actual expiry timelines. A simple step that can make a big difference involves educating customers on “best-before” versus “use-by” so that they can take their own call on which items to buy (where “use-by” indicates the date past which food is no longer safe to eat).

Supermarkets can also offer food nearing its expiry date at a lower price and use expiration date tracking technology to keep tabs on their inventory.

4. Donate the surplus food

Research shows that the top 10 UK supermarket chains are donating less than 9% of their extra food for consumption by people. Food insecurity is a real and pressing problem. Supermarkets can play a big role in solving it by working with food charities and food banks, distributing food directly to consumers through surplus food apps and partnering with restaurants to turn surplus ingredients into new dishes.

5. Use smarter appliances

Much of the grocery sector still relies on outdated appliances that consume large amounts of electricity. Modern refrigerators enable granular control over temperature and storage so that produce always stays fresh while energy bills remain reasonable.

Many also come with IoT sensors that monitor temperatures in real time and send alerts in case of any disruptions so that maintenance can happen promptly.

6. Leverage the power of analytics

Modern data analytics platforms enable complete visibility into each stage of food purchase, transport and storage. This allows supermarkets to see exactly where inefficiencies occur and take specific corrective action to reduce wastage.

For instance, if data shows that transport delays from a dairy farm are leading to higher spoilage rates for milk and eggs, the supermarket can work with a different logistics partner or take care to sell those dairy items first. They can also adjust order quantities based on consumer demand patterns.

Progress so far

It is not all bad news on the supermarket food handling front. Here are a few brands that have made excellent strides:

  • Online supermarket retailer Motatos saved over 25,000 tons of food waste in 2022 – a 22.5% hike from its 2021 figures – of which nearly £800,000 worth of food was saved from landfill in the UK.
  • Tesco had committed to halving all of its food waste by 2025. So far, the supermarket chain is on track, with food waste already brought down by 45% since 2016-17. Plus, in 2021-22, only 0.35% of all food handled across Tesco Group was wasted.
  • Waitrose and Marks & Spencer recently did away with best-before dates on their fruits and vegetables.
  • Morrisons regularly donates unsold edible food to over 400 charities and food banks. Since 2016, over 3 million tonnes of food have been donated.
  • Sainsbury’s has sent zero food waste to landfill since 2013. The chain also works closely with farmers and food suppliers to reduce waste in the supply chain and has donated over 6 million meals since 2021.

Over to you

The food supply chain needs to undergo significant changes to combat the inefficiency food waste management. Supermarkets have the resources and the reach to make a big difference, and with modern retail technology, doing so is easier than ever.

Millions of people trust supermarkets for their everyday food choices – for the sake of those people and the planet, supermarkets should do their best to ensure that each food unit reaches a hungry mouth.

To find out how Waste2ES helps UK grocery and food service retailers take steps to help mitigate wastage with modern technologies and systems, contact us today.

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