Official statistics show that you and your customers are throwing away around one in every six of the 8 billion meals served in the UK each year, as our society gets more and more wasteful. We talk to Jess Latchford of Waste Knot, who has decided to do something about it, by trying to connect those who have surplus food with those who either need or can use what would otherwise become another addition to the waste mountain
How did Waste Knot come about?
Jess Latchford (JL): Waste Knot came about as a result of witnessing, first-hand, the criminal amount of food waste that happens in kitchens, on a daily basis, up and down the country.
At that time, I was in charge of sales and marketing for a fresh produce company and part of my role was to help chefs with their menu-planning (to be as seasonal as possible) and to guide them through the wonderful world of fresh produce.
As you can imagine, chefs are very short of time so meetings happened all over the place or overlooking steaming pots and pans, giving me an insight into the daily workings of kitchens in and around London. Scraping the tip of the iceberg, I subsequently discovered this was only a very small representation of what was happening out there, especially in the wider world of contract caterers and institutions.
So, vowing to try to do something about, I founded Waste Knot; a way of connecting those who have surplus or waste food, be it a large corporation feeding 500 people daily or an independent café, and getting it to those who need it.
To put it in perspective, WRAP estimates that 8.3 million tonnes of food waste comes from consumers, 1.6mt from retailers, 4.1mt from food manufacturers, 3mt from restaurants, and 3mt from other groups. When you think that 5.8 million people are living in poverty in the UK, it cements the criminality of wasting perfectly edible food.
What’s more, the amount of food that is wasted each year in the UK is equivalent to 1.3 billion meals, or throwing away one in every six of the 8 billion meals served each year.
What are you aiming to achieve?
JL: We are aiming to help as many businesses as possible to first, reduce the amount of waste that they have from source as that is the ideal scenario. However, we all know that that’s nigh on impossible to achieve in such an ‘on-demand’ culture as ours. In which case, the next best action is to analyse how to reduce it, followed by organising the logistics to get it to where it needs to be if there happens to be enough to help those who could use it, be that school breakfast clubs, independent cafes that offer free meals, or larger charities serving-up 100 meals a day to the homeless.
Part of what differentiates Waste Knot from other co-ordinators, is that we want to make it fun and engaging, removing the perception of tackling food waste as being arduous. By building communities within organisations, bringing people together through various formats, be it in-house or wider-reaching, we make achieving attainable goals exciting and rewarding.
What responsibility do buyers of fresh produce have to ensure that waste is kept to a minimum?
JL: I think the strict cosmetic standards imposed by major retailers, which have again been brought into the consumer spotlight recently, have a lot to answer for when it comes to the colossal amount of waste of fresh produce. These are thankfully, but slowly, being modified to make way for more so-called ‘imperfect’ fruit and veg.
The fact is, most farmers put their heart and soul into all their crops, not just those that happen to emerge from the ground or fall from the tree with the ‘perfect’ specification. Nature doesn’t have a tape measure or a colour chart. These standards have simply been imposed by those who believe they know what their customers want. Studies and research show, however, that consumers actually cannot tell the difference and would certainly not want to be party to causing the consequences we now know occur on a daily basis from enforcing such strict criteria.
Regarding the role of buyers and those who sell fresh produce to the hospitality industry, it’s of the utmost importance that the virtues of using the whole of the product are extolled. Also, promoting products with sustainable qualities and those that have the least environmental impact as possible should be highlighted and pushed. Buyers need to be aware of the pressures faced by farmers and the climatic influences that they may face from one year to the next and adapt and respond accordingly.
When choosing where and what to eat, it’s becoming more and more important to diners to know where their food is coming from, how it was grown or reared and the commitments that that establishment has made with regards to sourcing and sustainability. The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) has recently launched Food Made Good, a campaign making it easy for consumers to be able to see ratings of various eateries so they can make an informed decision when choosing where to eat.
What role do you think social media and ‘celebrities’ play in this arena?
JL: Social media has really helped drum-up support and awareness for surplus food and food waste issues. It’s one of those things that people know is happening, know is bad but don’t know the full extent to what’s actually going on and how much needs to be achieved. It’s really a two-pronged awareness campaign and then a call-to-action; to make people aware of, firstly, how much food is being needlessly wasted and secondly, the extent of poverty and hunger that is so rife here in the UK.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Thomasina Miers, Tristram Stuart and others have brought the issues of food waste to the fore, which is fantastic. What’s needed is real action, for coordinators such as us, to embed themselves within organisations to guide, advise and make the connections that will make real differences.
How can Produce Business UK readers get involved and support the project, as well as add real value to their own businesses?
JL: From an economic perspective, it obviously makes sense for businesses to not waste food in the first place, which adds a clear financial incentive. The more we can reduce food waste at the source, the better. Waste Knot can help you do that.
However, for those businesses within Hospitality and Food Service, and those supplying fresh produce, who need guidance on redistributing their surplus food, the value can be more rewarding. Donating to those who are suffering from abject poverty and supporting those who donate their time day in, day out, to making sure those less fortunate eat a hot meal every day is substantially more gratifying and fulfilling.
What type of things are already happening through your work?
JL: Firstly, Waste Knot has coordinated weekly donations of fresh produce from First Choice Produce in New Covent Garden Market with City Harvest, which delivers to charities across London. Ranging from sacks of perfectly good potatoes to tomatoes that may be slightly softer than ideal for restaurants, nothing goes to waste.
Secondly, we have been working with Selfridges to help them reduce and use their surplus food from their concessions and restaurants. For the flagship store in Oxford Street, London, again allying with City Harvest, we are hoping to be able to deliver ready-made batches of soups and stews, made in-store by those willing to give their time, from surplus fresh produce to donate to various charities across London. For the Birmingham and Manchester stores, we are organising food to be donated to Food Cycle to contribute to their local hubs, which offer weekly meals to those in need.