During his role as Sales & Marketing Director at Branston Potatoes, George led a three-way collaboration between Branston, Tesco and Samworths – the first of its kind in the sector – to invest in and scale up a facility that could process surplus or visually imperfect crop to be retained within the Tesco supply chain and used in Samworth ready meals. This business went from a standing start to a multi-million turnover within 18 months fuelled by waste.
In September, WRAP and IGD reported on the first year of their Food Waste Reduction Roadmap. A year earlier, the two organisations had called on food businesses to adopt a more consistent approach to food waste, and commit to implementing a strategy of ‘targeting, measuring and acting’. The overarching aim was to help the UK achieve the Courtauld Commitment 2025 food waste reduction target and the UN SDG 12.3 target of halving food waste by 2030. One year on, 185 businesses have committed to the roadmap, including all of the UK’s large grocery retailers, with 121 large companies providing evidence that they have implemented ‘target, measure and act’ initiatives.
Although this number falls just shy of WRAP’s original recruitment target for its first year, there is now a discernable shift in the sector when it comes to food waste and sustainability. Lots of businesses – large and small – are getting on board but, inevitably, more work is required. The Government has indicated that, if more progress is not seen in the next two years, it will potentially legislate on mandatory surplus food reporting – a move some retailers, including Tesco’s, have said they would welcome.
As pressure builds, the team at Eden has noticed that our food and drink clients are definitely thinking differently about their supply chains. Many are now looking for people with the strategic agility and leadership credentials to challenge established norms and practices and re-write the rule book – helping to ensure maximum utilisation of product, and minimal waste throughout the supply chain.
Over the last few years we’ve seen a growth in the presence of “wonky veg” products in grocery retail plus innovative solutions such as juice bars mopping up fruit that is past its best before date. While these initiatives are a great start to addressing waste streams in fresh produce, and are helping to raise awareness of the issue, a bigger shift is possible. This requires senior talent in business to think creatively, work collaboratively and apply a clear strategic vision that cuts through the business and its key stakeholders.
Some fantastic examples exist of material change being made at pace. For example, the collaboration and strong relationships that exist between Tesco, Branston and Samworths have resulted in a factory expansion to specifically focus on and process surplus raw material. The facility peels visually imperfect but entirely edible potatoes, which are then supplied to Samworth Brothers, a convenience food producer which makes a range of Tesco’s ready meals such as mash potato and cottage pie. One thing that is clear from this example, having been personally involved in it, is the feel-good factor it can deliver through the business and the positive external PR it can generate. This greatly assists perceptions in the sector and competitive advantage plus attracts talent into a sector, which is often incorrectly perceived as quite traditional.
Within the more consumer facing world, it is also encouraging and inspiring to see products, brands and services putting the reduction of food waste at the core of their purpose. Oddbox, a veg box delivery scheme that sources raw material from farms, which would otherwise go to waste, but is perfectly tasty and edible, is seeing huge growth. Rubies in the Rubble is another business I admire from the outside. They have an outstanding proposition of tasty sauces, relishes, mayos and more – all utilizing wonky, surplus ingredients and fresh produce.
A question I often get asked is – is it okay to call it waste if it is redirected to a greater purpose. My view is that if it increases value and sustainability to the supply chain and grower, and raises consumer awareness, than whether waste destined for the bin, or distress sale at a loss – this is most definitely a good thing and a step in the right direction
Long term, this trend will inevitably continue – but the industry needs to continually up the pace. In November, WRAP reported that Brexit is delaying progress – with many companies unsure about future labelling requirements and continuing uncertainty surrounding the timing and outcome of Brexit. This is understandable but, as an industry, we cannot afford to let paralysis set in on this high-profile issue. Great strides have been made and achieving SDG12.3 would deliver an annual reduction in UK farm to fork food waste of 3.5 million tonnes in 2030, saving food worth £10 billion a year. Securing this result would have a feel-good factor for the planet and for everyone involved in the sector.
WRAP: The Waste Resources & Action Programme
IDG: the food and grocery industry’s research and training charity