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Food Waste is a global problem: according to the UN 30-40% of the world’s annual cereal production is lost through waste each year. While this is a very complex problem that has its roots throughout the supply chain, retailers can more effectively manage the challenges if they know their supply chain and use that knowledge to build a solution.
Waste not, want not
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the US alone more than 133 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year. To put it into context, this accounts for roughly one third of the nation’s food supply and costs the global economy about $750bn a year. Over in the UK, Food waste charity Fareshare estimated 400,000 tonnes of food that could be used for human consumption instead goes to anaerobic digestion or is used as animal feed every year. This problem has not gone unnoticed: the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – in partnership with charities and the private sector – are targeting a 50% cut in edible food waste by 2030.
While retailers like Sainsbury’s have already been supporting incentives like food redistribution for over 20 years, the problem needs more of a concerted effort across the industry. France recently passed a law making it illegal for supermarkets to throw out food that is still fit for human consumption. While the UK doesn’t necessarily need to impose a similar law, retailers and other parties across the food industry can proactively address the issue by gaining better insight into the supply chain to understand how waste can be reduced. This will not only reduce waste but also allow retailers to be prepared for any future legislation.
Don’t lay blame with the consumer
To date a lot of the food waste focus has been on the consumer at home, with websites like “Love Food, Hate Waste” asking shoppers to make the most of ingredients that they already have rather than grabbing convenient meals on a whim. However, ongoing price wars, special offers and low prices can make many products far too tempting. Yet waste in the home only accounts for a small fraction of global food waste. In Africa, the level of home food waste is relatively low, for example, but quite often food is wasted at supplier level because of the constantly shifting global food economy. The industry as a whole needs to take responsibility for the level of waste that occurs around the world, especially in the face of a growing global population and some experts predicting a global food shortage in the years ahead.
If retailers and manufacturers know their supply chains, they and their producers can more easily take steps to reduce food waste. This should form part of an overall CSR policy, in the same way that fair trade and safe working conditions do today. This ethical approach can not only reduce waste but also encourage more loyalty from conscientious shoppers.
Food waste is a complex issue that will need joint action from government, the food industry and consumers. With the right insight into supply chains, through supplier collaboration, retailers can identify where problems lie and build a solution to tackle the problem.