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Pressure from the food waste movement causes supermarket giants to tackle food waste

The British Retail Consortium recently issued a report detailing how supermarkets are addressing food waste. Feedback welcomes that supermarkets in the UK are leading the world on reducing food waste in their supply chains. However, there is more work to be done by the UK’s supermarkets, particularly when it comes to being transparent about the amount of food they cause farmers to throw away.

The need for transparency

Three years ago, after pressure from Feedback, Tesco became the first supermarket in the world to release a third-party audited report of its food waste throughout the supply chain. This year Sainsbury’s agreed to release data on its in-store waste, but since then progress has stalled. Feedback is now calling for all supermarkets to step up to the plate and show us their data.

The report highlights that supermarkets have made a ‘commitment to report annually on retail food waste’ (p.2). Since they are already collecting the data, it’s only a short step to have it audited and made public.

Transparent data is important as it enables us to see the best and worst performing retailers. Consumers can vote with their wallet and they are ready to punish supermarkets who fail to address this issue – 53% of consumers would consider boycotting a supermarket with a poor track record of wasting food. Transparency also enables government, social entrepreneurs etc. to create data driven solutions which are needed to tackle this massive issue.

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The BRC report only outlines a commitment to report on ‘retail food waste’ (p.2), when in fact we need data across the entire supply chain. We have reported cases of supermarkets pushing food waste up the supply chain, causing farmers and suppliers to carry the cost. Thankfully as a result of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in the UK this practise is being phased out. However, there is still much more to do and obtaining accurate data is an important first step.

Tristram Stuart, in giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) inquiry on food waste, recently remarked:

‘No one has ever looked at the waste industry in a transparent way. We rely on their (supermarkets) self-generated data. No one includes the waste of fish at sea, the waste generated in production overseas, the waste in the supply chain. Supermarkets are in a position of power – more than any other individual stakeholder, they can impact food waste.’

Supermarkets finally stepping up to address food waste is a cause for celebration, but if they are truly ‘committed to producing a long-term and sustained reduction in food waste levels’ (p.4) then we need to know what their current food waste levels are across the board so we can hold them to account.