Last month, Tesco announced it was cutting out a packing stage in the UK to give some of its key fresh produce lines and those most wasted by consumers an extra two days of shelf-life. Produce Business UK finds out more from Tesco group food commercial director Matt Simister
You can barely turn a page in the newspaper or channel hop on the TV without being reminded of how profligate UK consumers are when it comes to food.
The government’s Waste & Resources Reduction Action Programme (WRAP) calculates that we throw away a hefty seven million tonnes of food, and a large percentage of that is fresh fruits and vegetables.
Retailers have been quick off the mark to demonstrate to consumers what they are doing to cut down on waste and to benefit charities by ensuring edible fresh produce gets where it is needed most, even after it passes its best-before date.
Now Tesco has cut out a link in its chain for imported iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum pepper, celery, broccoli and easy-peel citrus and oranges.
“We have packhouses in several regions of Spain, around Murcia and Valencia in particular,” says a spokesman for the retailer. “We are managing the logistics of our packing and storage operation in Spain to minimise dwell times and maximise speed back to our regional distribution centre (RDC); shipping from Spain into Tesco RDCs directly, and missing out the packing stage in the UK. This is an initiative we have been working on for the last three years, which we are expanding this year.”
Tesco has calculated that by removing this trip to a UK packhouse, customers can benefit from extra days shelf-life on their products when they get home. These changes apply to produce sourced in Spain. Outside of the Spanish season, the retailer will revert to the minimum shelf-life requirements it sets and manages through date-code changes.
Tesco group food commercial director Matt Simister says: “For millions of our customers, this move will mean having up to an extra two days during which to enjoy some of the most popular fruit and vegetables. The extra days of freshness will particularly benefit customers who are pressed for time and will mean they are less likely to throw away food.”
Tesco’s initiative is specifically for imported produce from Spain, but that doesn’t mean the retailer is not also working with other suppliers, notably UK growers, to enhance speed to market to ensure the retailer can get the freshest products onto its shelves.
Partnership with WRAP
Tesco’s efforts have already been welcomed by WRAP. Dr Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at the government agency, says: “WRAP’s product-life research identified a number of simple and safe ways to make changes throughout the supply chain to pass on more product life to shoppers.
“Giving people more time to eat the foods they buy reduces the risk of food being wasted. Our report estimates some 250,000 tonnes of food waste could be prevented by a one-day increase in product life – both food wasted by households and by the supply chain.
“Preventing this volume of waste means UK shoppers have a potential shared saving of up to £500 million a year. I’m delighted Tesco has used this guide to examine a range of products.”
According to WRAP, some 174,000t of citrus are thrown away every year in the UK – more than any other fresh produce line. And of the 52,000t of lettuce that does not get eaten, WRAP calculates that 44,000t of that waste is avoidable.
Tesco admits it is unable to separate the impact of this specific initiative on household food waste, but is continuing to work with WRAP to understand the levels of household food waste in the UK and to work out solutions to help customers reduce waste and save money.
For example, it has redesigned the packaging for key fresh produce lines to include food waste tips, such as storing apples in loosely tied plastic bags in the fridge, or putting spinach in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid that’s lined with a paper towel.
“Preliminary findings show that one in 10 customers claim they’ve changed their behaviour as a result of the new packaging – that’s 1.4 million customers,” says Simister.
Other actions Tesco has taken to address food waste include teaming up with charities FareShare in the UK and FoodCloud in Ireland to ensure surplus food in stores goes to those in need and to eliminate edible food waste in its stores, which it estimates to be at least 30,000t.
And on November 13, the multiple announced a one-off donation to FareShare of 1.7m meals. This was made possible by donating all the surplus from 10 ambient distribution centres, and also as a result of Tesco’s “range reset programme”, which sees recently delisted product lines of tinned meat, cereals, and canned fruit and vegetables going to the charity too.
To find out about more ways to direct surplus food to those in need, read our exclusive interview with Waste Knot founder Jess Latchford.