Feedback: share food waste concerns and suggestions

Feedback: share food waste concerns and suggestions

Gill McShane

Feedback Pumpkin gleaning


Having carried out some initiatives related to fruit and vegetables, Feedback – the environmental organisation that campaigns to end food waste at every level of the food system – is eager to strengthen its involvement with the UK horticulture sector. But it needs your help. Produce Business UK speaks with Feedback to learn why growers, suppliers and retailers should work collaboratively with the group to discuss their food waste priorities and find solutions that will drive real change

Various food waste organisations have sprung up in the UK in recent years but where Feedback claims to differ is through its global campaigning for policy change on food waste, in addition to delivering consultancy programmes and fun initiatives.

This makes sense considering the association was founded in 2009 by UK-based food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart. As such, Feedback has grown out of the legacy of Stuart’s book, ‘Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’.

“A lot of food waste organisations aim to redistribute food surplus to charities, including fantastic projects like FareShare,” explains Martin Bowman, Feedback’s UK Gleaning Network coordinator. 

“What makes Feedback unique is that we also campaign for policy change to design food waste out of the system in the first place. We do this through campaigns like Stop Dumping and the Pig Idea, but also through fun events like Feeding the 5000 and food redistribution projects such as the Gleaning Network, where we physically go out to farms to save food and demonstrate that the solutions to food waste are simple and delicious.” 

VIDEO: Tristram Stuart delves into the data of wasted food, calling for a more responsible use of global resources:

Listening to the horticulture industry

Bowman says Feedback is “really interested” in the UK horticulture sector, and has carried out numerous campaigns around fruit and veg, including its Gleaning Network and the Stop Dumping campaign, which relate directly to food waste on fresh produce farms both in the UK and abroad.  

It also runs a Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network (FSE), an umbrella-type organisation of entrepreneurs dedicated to coming up with novel solutions for food waste. Examples include: Rubies in the Rubble, which turns fruit and veg into delicious jams and chutneys; and Snact, which creates snacks from surplus produce.

Now the organisation is eager to go one step further. Its goal is to provide an open platform for horticulture growers and retailers to come forward and talk about the issues surrounding food waste. The aim is to understand better the causes, champion those involved, share ideas and, ultimately, reduce food waste.

“We want to work directly with growers to help them find charitable organisations for any food waste from farms or packhouses,” Bowman tells Produce Business UK.

“Through our research and campaigning, we also create a safe, anonymous platform for growers to communicate to the public and each other about the food waste problems they face, which are often down to factors outside of their hands like retailer policy, the weather and consumer habits.

“And we’re really interested in the effect that retailer policy has on their suppliers. We’re keen to work with retailers and buyers to help them find solutions that reduce food waste in their supply chains, which can boost profits, improve supply chain relationships and consumer reputation, and reduce environmental impact.”

Bowman explains that Feedback’s interest lies with wanting to help suppliers and buyers, as well as deepening its own research. “We need to find out more from the industry, and get the word out about food waste at the same time,” he notes. “We’re really excited to learn what their problems are and, most importantly, what they think are the solutions.”

Feedback is eager to help to reduce food waste wherever it occurs in the supply chain, be that for certain products, in the field or in the packhouse.  

“Feedback has a current impression of the problems and solutions to food waste on farms, but we want to start a conversation [with the horticulture industry] so we can all learn from each other,” Bowman states. “We are very willing to be challenged about what the key problems are, and how we can come up with new inventive solutions. We want to encourage growers attending the London Produce Show to come and join that conversation in our seminar on farm food waste.”  

To engage directly with the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, Feedback is participating as the charity partner of the London Produce Show and Conference 2016, which takes place on June 8-10 at the Grosvenor House hotel in Mayfair. For more information, see the end of this article.

“Feedback wants to find out more from the horticulture sector,” Bowman explains. “We want to hear from both buyers and suppliers, and even if they don’t think they have any issues, then tell us why. Perhaps that means they’ve already solved the problem and have a great solution they can share with others. Feedback can provide advice but we also want to listen.”

Challenges & solutions

When it comes to food waste in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, according to Feedback the major, current issues are: overproduction for fear of underproduction, cosmetic outgrading and order cancellations.

To tackle those problems, Bowman says there are various opportunities to reduce food waste, and solutions which buyers, and retailers in particular, can implement. Here are Bowman’s top four strategies:

Overproduction for fear of underproduction

“Many growers have told Feedback they are sometimes afraid to undersupply retailers because they might be delisted. An effort to reduce that climate of fear is needed because it’s leading to overproduction to hedge against the risk of ever under-supplying. Buyers need to be more understanding that sometimes there will be lean production years.”

Cosmetic outgrading

“Another solution is relaxing cosmetic standards in general to ensure a greater diversity of fruits and vegetables get into stores. But we want to ensure that that happens on a meaningful and widespread level, and not just via small-scale schemes. Buyers can tackle food waste right at the root of the supply chain by working with their suppliers for the benefit of all.

“For instance, Tesco has recently relaxed its cosmetic specifications on Kenyan green beans as a direct result of Feedback’s campaigning on the issue, including Feedback’s report on food waste in Kenya.

“In January 2014 Aldi introduced an Everyday Essentials potato range, and has since sold 34,000 tonnes of potatoes that would have otherwise fallen outside of Aldi’s specifications, increasing its potato suppliers’ crop utilisation by over 17%.”

Guaranteeing orders

“There have been some really interesting experiments with guaranteeing orders and whole purchases. Tesco has started purchasing the whole crop from some of its banana suppliers, and 80% of the crop from some of its grape suppliers. Tesco then comes up with a way of using that produce, including: putting it in a discount range, processing it for ready meals, or integrating it into juices.

“This also means the retailer is taking on some of the risk of variable supply. Even during glut years the grower doesn’t have to bear all of the risk of that uncertainty. That should be experimented more. Guaranteeing orders is also another good way of preventing order cancellations and reducing unpredictabilities for suppliers.”

Pig Idea

“One other solution centres on the Pig Idea campaign. This is based around trying to reform EU laws on feeding livestock with food waste. For pigs, food waste – if it’s treated properly and boiled to the correct temperature in centralised, easily monitored facilities – is perfectly safe to eat.

“But the ban is still in place, so huge amounts of food that could be sent to pigs is sent for composting and other less useful ways of disposal. Pigs therefore are often fed on imported soy, which could be replaced with professionally-treated swill. Feedback wants to reform that law.”

Benefits of cutting food waste

By implementing solutions to end food waste, there is an all-round win for everyone involved in the supply chain, according to Bowman.

“Producing food only for some to go to waste doesn’t make sense,” he states. “Someone in the supply chain is missing out on the profits from that food that isn’t sold. There is also a huge environmental impact that racks up. And, over the last few years food waste has risen to become the second-most-important concern among consumers when it comes to buying food.”

For retailers and buyers, in particular, Bowman says the benefits are three-fold. In reducing food waste, he says buyers can benefit their own bottom line, their relationships with customers and their alliances with suppliers.

On top of that, here are Bowman’s six major wins for buyers:

Continuity of supply

“First of all, increasing food security and guaranteeing continuity of supply is set to become more prominent in the coming years and buyers are really mindful of that. They realise they have to treat suppliers well to ensure their continuity of supply. Reducing food waste on farms is one way they can help to really care for their suppliers because it affects their bottom line and their ability to stay in business.”

Cost savings and improved PR

“If buyers and retailers can save money for their suppliers, they can potentially pass on those savings to their shoppers. Food waste has shot up the public agenda in the last few years, so food waste reduction can have significant benefits for your reputation.”

Diversifying offer

“Other really great initiatives that some supermarkets are already introducing are trials of wonky produce sales. These are having great success, and there’s an opportunity for retailers to be pleasantly surprised by how willing consumers are to embrace wonky fruit and veg. Plus retailers can provide low-cost produce at a time when consumers are being squeezed by the recession.”

Order cancellations

“Order cancellations is another area where retailers and buyers can help. Retailers are mindful of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP). Order cancellations can go hand in hand with reducing food waste, while also helping retailers to comply better with GSCOP.”

Environmental impact

“A lot of buyers are also becoming increasingly mindful of the environment and their own impact. Food waste is the third-largest contributor to greenhouse gases after China and the USA. What’s more, 70% of the world’s water resource goes to irrigating crops, of which one-third is for agricultural land.

“Cutting food waste is therefore a great way to reduce your carbon, water and land impact and that’s good news for everyone. It’s a great way to demonstrate your commitment to reducing your environmental impact and your overall CSR initiatives. It shows customers you care about the social and environmental impact of food waste.”

Using scale for good

“Apart from all the environmental benefits big companies can spread, they can also use their ‘scale for good’ because they’re such large businesses. For example, any change in policy by the big supermarkets can have a huge impact on their supply chain.”

Approaching real change

In 2009 when Tristram Stuart first started Feedback, Bowman concedes that cutting food waste was a far smaller movement. Since then, however, he says it’s gained momentum, meaning real change is achievable in the future.

“It’s really exciting now as it feels like we’ve reached a critical mass,” he exclaims. “We can barely keep track of the number of new food waste projects coming out.”

This year saw the establishment in the UK of the Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary agreement within the food and drink industry to cut by one-fifth the resource needed to provide food and drink over ten years.

“It’s really exciting, especially in terms of food waste on farms because that has never been included in the Courtauld Commitment before,” points out Bowman. “This marks the first stage in committing to reduce farm waste by 2018.”

UK celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, meanwhile, have both led very high-profile campaigns calling for an end to food waste.  

Last year also saw the introduction of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 2.3, while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) set the first food waste reduction goals for the US (a 50% reduction by 2030). Also, the global Consumer Goods Forum agreed to halve food waste by 2025 within member retail and manufacturing operations.

In addition, the European Commission and European Parliament have discussed food waste prevention regulation as part of the Circular Economy Package.

“A huge raft of new targets and initiative all came out last year, and it feels like that momentum will build this year,” suggests Bowman. 

Feedback Brassica gleaning

Still to be done?

Nonetheless, Feedback is well aware that there is still much to be done. Below, Bowman highlights four key areas for action that relate to the fresh produce sector:

Food waste on farms

“One of main problems is that no-one’s really measuring food waste on farms,” he points out. “That’s why the Courtauld Commitment 2025 is so exciting, and we urge as many buyers and suppliers as possible to get involved to measure the extent of the issue by 2018. That will involve discussions on the best way to solve it too.”

Expanding GSCOP

“We’d really like to see the Groceries Code Adjudicator make some changes to GSCOP. Currently, the law only covers direct suppliers to supermarkets. But a lot of farms and other businesses indirectly supply supermarkets. They are currently not protected by GSCOP in those cases. We think they’d benefit from the same protection as direct suppliers. They too are experiencing problems with food waste that often arise through unfair trading practises like order cancellations.”

Cosmetic standards

“There has been some progress with relaxing cosmetic standards through the introduction of wonky fruit and veg ranges. Those need to be extended until the still huge amounts of fruit and veg going to waste for being the wrong shape, size and colour are meaningfully reduced.”

Other routes to market

“Secondary markets and inventive marketing have a role to play too. We want to see lots more entrepreneurs coming up with new ideas, like turning unwanted fruit and veg into juices, soups or smoothies.” 

Feedback Strawberry gleaning

Meeting Feedback

Feedback is making itself available to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry at this year’s London Produce Show 2016 (LPS16). As the event’s charity partner, Feedback will be exhibiting as well as being heavily involved in a number of the show’s activities on June 8-10, including:

  • The foodservice panel, where Feedback will facilitate a discussion on the different food waste initiatives open to the foodservice industry.

  • A seminar dedicated to food waste, which will serve as an open platform for growers to discuss food waste issues on their farms.

  • The breakfast panel, where Feedback will join other representatives from the food and fresh produce industry.

During LPS16, Feedback will also announce details of its soon-to-be released report on the latest research into food waste. 

Feedback Parsnip gleaning

Further materials

Food waste pyramid
Food waste facts
Upcoming events
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