Gavin Milligan – responsible for identifying sustainability risks and opportunities at the food manufacturer which is responsible for ready-made Aunt Bessie’s – has highlighted the need for increased collaboration between businesses, suppliers and policymakers in order to reduce waste.

Speaking to edie ahead of the Sustainable Supply Chain conference in July (scroll down below for details), Milligan believes that – without detracting from current efforts in the industry – sector-wide engagement improvements would ultimately reduce the UK’s food waste levels.

“Everybody has different impacts of waste and we are a food system,” Milligan said. “Very few organisations operate in complete isolation – it’s a case of everybody playing their own part.

“We need to understand what the word ‘sustainable’ means to all of the stakeholders in any given commodity. It’s not necessarily going to be a one-size fits all solution. The solution requires not only collaboration for any scale, but also specialist expertise. We don’t know everything, so it’s question of using experts where those experts can add value.

“The more we work together, the better opportunity we have of reducing the issue across the food chain.”

‘Beating up the supermarkets’

The issue of food waste has intensified over the past year, with major campaigns such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste placing the spotlight on various supermarkets’ approach to tackling the problem, while industry experts have called for increased collaboration between the food waste industry and local authorities to boost waste capture rates.

This exposure led to food rediestribution organisation FareShare’s director of food Mark Varney stating that food waste campaigners should stop ‘beating up the supermarkets’ and instead look further up the supply chain at the untapped redistribution potential of thousands of processors and manufacturer.

These sentiments have been echoed by Milligan, who insists that food waste efforts shouldn’t be a question of “anybody beating anybody up”, but instead focused on managing the environmental and social risks within the supply chain – akin to a health and safety assessment.

As a sixth-generation family business, William Jackson Group operates through five food businesses and a pub, with brands including Yorkshire pudding behemoth Aunt Bessie’s, sandwich bread producer Jacksons and healthy snacking firm The Food Doctor.  

Milligan explained that William Jackson is now collaborating with Fareshare as one of a number of food waste initiatives the Group has been undertaking across all of its brands to address the issue.

“Nobody sets out to confuse their business partners, they do what they do for their own reason, so you need to understand where people come from and why they do what they do and only at that point can you try and potentially change what they do,” he added. “And that’s the most important point.

“The first part of addressing risk in supply chain is mapping and understanding where they are it then understand what mitigation actions are available and how well you are using those actions to address the risk.”

‘Level playing field’

William Jackson Food Group has developed a stringent environmental policy that is implemented and monitored at all levels throughout the organisation, in an effort to integrate sustainable sourcing across its businesses. The Group’s food delivery brand Abel & Cole, for instance, has gradually built a reputation for supplying high-quality organic vegetable boxes and delivering a locally and ethically-sourced range of groceries.

Milligan expressed a cautionary belief that circular economy principles now being advanced by the likes of William Jackson will become commonplace across food industry, but only if businesses receive support through a harmonisation of compliance schemes and better Government regulation.  

“Collaboration is very important,” he concluded. “I would like to see a harmonisation of platforms. I’m not going to criticise any compliance scheme, but if you take Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance for instance, why would you choose one or the other of those? Each form of compliance is merely setting out to do similar things in different ways. Convergence of those schemes and requirements would help and I know there is some work in standards sector where that is happening.

“It’s difficult for anybody to get access to all the right information they might want or need and of course every now and then you find that the goalposts are moved. There needs to be a more level playing field and more certainty in terms of regulation. When the US, the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) have different approaches to the same issue, it makes it more difficult to follow, so there must be more clarity and harmonisation.”

Gavin Milligan at edie’s Sustainable Supply Chain conference

William Jackson Food Groups’ sustainability director Dr Gavin Milligan will be speaking at theedie Sustainable Supply Chain conference, discussing how to mitigate the environmental risks facing global supply chains.

Now in its fifth year, the Sustainable Supply Chain conference will discuss all of these issues and more, taking place on 6 July in London.

Find out more about the Conference and register to attend here.

George Ogleby

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