Tesco calls for supply chain collaboration to reduce food waste

Tesco produce aisles

Tesco's research with WRAP found that around 31% of its food volume is wasted

Mark Little_Tesco head of food waste reduction
Mark Little, head of food waste reduction at Tesco

In 2013 Tesco announced its ambition to reduce food waste globally, partly in response to the situation becoming “an issue that people really care about”, according to the retailer’s head of food waste reduction, Mark Little. But with food waste also representing a significant cost for suppliers, Produce Business UK finds out why Little believes “any opportunity to reduce costs cannot be ignored” by the supply chain, especially in the current business climate

Shared responsibility

Given that 25% of Tesco’s food waste comes from fresh produce, food waste certainly is a serious issue for our sector. With this in mind, Tesco is steadily working towards achieving its bold ambition of reducing food waste globally and, as Little reveals, the retailer has so far learned that collaboration across the food chain is fundamental to success.

“Everyone needs to work together to realise the benefits,” asserts Little, adding that Tesco began its drive by working with WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) to better understand where food is wasted across the UK food chain.

The research found that around 31% of Tesco's food volume is wasted – roughly half of which occurs on farms and across the supply chain, while the other half is thrown away by consumers. However, less than 1% of this figure relates to food that is lost during the retail end of the supply chain. Even so, Little is keen to emphasise that Tesco does not wish to “pass the buck”, considering that some of its activities do contribute to the issue.

“It’s clear that we have shared responsibility,” he says. “The solution lies in working in partnership with producers and processors – as well as working in partnership with customers in their homes.”

Further research by the supermarket has come under the company’s “farm to fork insight,” which saw data collected from its producers and suppliers on why and how much food is wasted to really understand where waste is occurring, what’s driving that waste and how Tesco can tackle it.

Five key solutions emerging

Whilst Little accepts there isn’t “one single, universal solution” to tackle food waste in the supply chain, he points out five key themes that are emerging from Tesco’s efforts to reduce food waste that the sector at large could adopt.

  1. Utilising product-specific initiatives – UK potato supplier Branston, for example, has introduced technology that removes stones in the potato-producing process and is using drones to better detect pests and diseases. “Some of these solutions are potentially applicable to other crops as well,” says Little.
  2. Guaranteeing suppliers’ orders – This helps to reduce losses in the field. “Some of these [food waste] losses were caused because Tesco was not guaranteeing orders,” Little admits. “By guaranteeing that we will buy at least 80% of our crop’s orders, suppliers are less likely to end up with unsold crops.”
  3. Ensuring every part of the edible crop goes to human consumption – Tesco’s second class and small bananas, for instance, now go into “everyday value” and “small banana” packs, while any leftover bananas are processed into milkshakes.
  4. Working closely with partners – Getting to know growers’ crop profiles, including their crop yields, to deal with situations like crop flushes. In May this year Little explains that lots of Tesco’s strawberry crop ripened at the same time and, as a result, the retailer had a crop flush – a real surplus of strawberries. “We ran a promotion on British strawberries to ensure the product went to customers as opposed to being wasted by our suppliers,” he says.
  5. Working directly with suppliers – Finding ways of reducing waste by shortening the supply chain, such as by sourcing directly. For instance, Tesco has worked with its lettuce supplier G’s to enable a product sourced from Spain to travel directly to Tesco’s UK distribution centres. “It doesn’t go to a pack house, so the customer receives a fresher product,” explains Little.

In-store initiatives

Tesco’s ambition has also led to the introduction of several initiatives within its shops. For instance, the supermarket has teamed up with Fareshare FoodCloud – a partnership between the Irish social enterprise FoodCloud and the UK-based food redistribution charity FareShare – to help distribute surplus food to people in need.

Little explains that Tesco uses the FareShare Foodcloud app to let FareShare know how much food it has left over. If the charity says yes and accepts the food, it then collects it from the store and turns it into meals. So far, the programme has been piloted in more than 100 stores in Ireland, and 12 stores in the UK, including London, Liverpool and Belfast.

“It’s a scheme that has so much potential and we have really high hopes for it,” Little says. “The aim is to roll it out to every single store.” Another initiative that Tesco has been introducing, according to Little, is WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste scheme. Aimed at consumers, the drive sees hints and tips printed on food packaging to explain how people can better handle and store food at home. 

Love Food Hate Waste_Tesco food waste_by RA

The bigger picture

Many other retailers, including large multiples such as Asda and Waitrose, are also supporting WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign and are rolling out similar food waste schemes to Tesco. Like Tesco, they have signed up to phase three of theCourtauld Commitment, which aims to reduce food and packaging waste in the grocery sector and in the home.

Sainsbury’s, for example, has this month (September 2015) launched a five-year, £10 million Waste Less, Save More project to tackle household food waste. It aims to begin the project next year (2016) in one UK town and will use this town to trial schemes such as reward programmes to encourage recycling. 

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