It’s Time to Change

03 Oct 2014|Added Value

Just 2% of surplus food that is fit for consumption is redistributed. 98% is turned into compost, energy or disposed of in landfill. Why is so much wasted?

2014 has been designated the year against food waste by the European Union. It’s a hot topic, set to rise on the political agenda in the UK as a cross party enquiry looks into causes of the rise in Food Bank usage. Against the backdrop of a growing food shortage amongst certain segments of society, supermarkets and food manufacturers are coming under increasing scrutiny for their food waste policies.

Given this very public debate, the time is ripe for brands to look at how they approach this challenge – a prime opportunity to reduce waste and make it an integral part of their brand story. Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s main supermarket chains, aims to ‘put all waste to positive use’ by 2020, already achieving zero waste to landfill in 2010 and 6.8m meals provided to food donation partnerships. Sainsbury’s are also focused on inspiring less wasteful behaviour amongst their customers. Online tips on how to use up leftovers and shifting from ‘use by’ to ‘best before’ dates are simple steps designed to encourage less waste through reassurance.

IKEA is also reducing waste with their partnership with MITIE Group enabling 99% of all food waste produced in store to be segregated and sent for recycling.

But it’s not just up to the big brands to change. Although we all instinctively know what a valuable resource food is, UK households continue to throw away a staggering 7 million tonnes every year – and what’s more gut renching is that more than 4.2 million tonnes of this could have been eaten. To add to the frustration it’s also costing us a huge amount – there is a hefty price tag for food waste to businesses and society; £19.4 billion per year and a heavy £12.5 billion of this is generated by households according to WRAP research.

Consequently, it is a great time for mainstream food brands to rethink policy and develop messaging and activation strategies to drive both internal and consumer food-saving behaviours. The good news is that both corporations and consumers now have access to a growing number of initiatives that are making it easier to waste-not across Europe:
Rubies in the Rubble, based in the UK, is a beautiful ‘foodie type’ range of chutneys with a difference; all the fruit and vegetables are sourced from surplus stock, stopping waste in its tracks.

– French supermarket Intermarché has a campaign ‘Fruits et Legumes Moches’ (Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables) which promotes funny-looking fruit and veg destined for the waste bin. Offered at a 30% discount they demonstrate the quality of this otherwise unloved produce by distributing a range of soups and juices.

– The Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement in the UK, tackles waste reduction and resource efficiency within UK households and the grocery sector through putting the focus on new packaging and waste solutions across the supply chain and reducing carbon impact. UK Dairy Crest launching milk eco-pouches, and supermarket chain Asda increasing the shelf life of over 1,500 products by implementing efficiencies to their delivery and storage systems. Since 2005 the Courtauld Commitment has resulted in at least 2.9 million tonnes of reduced waste, worth a monetary saving of at least £4.9 billion and a reduction of 8.1 million tonnes of CO2e.

– A remarkable packaging solution designed in the UK called EVAP is a film that as well as being biodegradable and compostable also extends the shelf life of fresh produce by as much as 200%. It’s a great invention that suppliers and brands can use and innovate from as well as saving consumers hundreds of pounds by reducing the amount of food they buy and throw away.

Restaurant of the Future, an innovative restaurant in the Netherlands, is using cameras that monitor people’s food habits to find out how we can reduce waste before it even becomes waste.
It’s very evident that we’re making headway, but with ambitious targets in place, there’s still a long way to go. It’s not just about minimising waste and environmental damage, but a very real monetary saving. The dwindling of accessible resources has led companies to more carefully audit the cost of operations and search for savings wherever they can be found. And given the ongoing pressure on our wallets, it could be the economic benefit that drives change in consumer behaviour.

The food industry still relies too heavily on bundling and promotional offers that encourage excess purchases of perishable items. If we’re going to wind up throwing food away, buying lots of it on promo or BOGOF isn’t a very good deal. Brands need to rethink their promotional policy and address the portion size and quantity of produce in packaging. Simple messaging is needed to educate on how to store and use perishable ingredients to make them last longer. A simple message like ‘Frozen grapes are delicious’ can make a big difference.

The time is “ripe” for leaders in the food industry to innovate and stake claim to a new space in the consumer mind: responsible eating for our waistbands, our wallets and our planet.


Written by Lucy Cox, Insight Associate Director. This article is an UK adaptation of Leslie Pascaud’s article, ‘A Food Waste Reduction Movement Gathers Steam’.


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