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Tesco CEO calls on retailers to release food waste data

In a speech yesterday at the Global Summit of the Consumer Goods Forum, Tesco CEO Dave Lewis called for other retailers to follow Tesco’s example and openly publish their food waste data.

In 2013, Tesco responded to pressure by Feedback’s longstanding campaign and our direct challenge to the retailer and published third party audited figures of how much food it wastes in its UK operations as well as identifying food waste hot spots in its supply chain.

Disappointingly, none of the other retailers has taken up our challenge to follow suit. Retailers continue to report their food waste data secretively, with the British Retail Consortium only publishing an annual aggregate figure for the whole industry, which does not include data on supply chain food waste.

Any retailer that is serious about tackling food waste can no longer afford to be secretive about how much they waste.

In the latest voluntary agreement by the food industry to tackle food waste, known as the Courtauld Commitment 2025, we were disappointed to see that retailers had only agreed to publish one aggregate food waste figure for the whole industry instead of reporting company-specific food waste figures. Noting this move by Tesco, a signatory of the commitment, we wrote: “Other retailers should follow suit and openly publish how much food they individually waste so they can be held accountable to public scrutiny and begin a race to the top to prove which supermarket is least wasteful.”

Supermarkets play a pivotal role in the food supply chain. They drive food waste upstream by imposing strict cosmetic standards on suppliers and by using outsize market power over suppliers that encourage overproduction in order to meet last-minute order changes. Supermarkets also cause consumer food waste through portion sizing and marketing techniques that cause consumers to buy more than they use.

We can only change behaviour when we measure it accurately and transparently. This logic applies to entities other than supermarkets, too, such as individual countries. For this reason, we have formed a coalition with eight other environmental groups asking the EU to standardise food waste measurement across member states.

Partly because supermarkets consistently refuse to be forthright about their food waste, we worked with Kerry McCarthy MP on a food waste reduction bill that included the requirement of large supermarkets and manufacturers to publish and transparently report their food waste across their supply chains. (Read more here.)

The government shelved the bill, but the need to push supermarkets on this issue remains. This is a wake up call for the retailer industry in the UK and around the world. Any retailer that is serious about tackling food waste can no longer afford to be secretive about how much they waste.