EXCLUSIVE: Retailers look to exert pressure on supply chain waste

Greater supply chain collaboration to design out waste will dominate retailer efforts around sustainability this year, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The BRC confirmed today that waste prevention would be one of the key priority areas for its members in the coming 12 months, as the next phase of the Courtauld Commitment prepares to get underway.

According to figures from WRAP released last October, food retailers still aren’t reaping the full benefits of waste prevention despite making good progress in reducing waste across their supply chains.

The BRC’s director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie told edie that moves by many of the major supermarkets to secure better relations with farmers on pricing and quality issues in certain sectors was opening doors in terms of environmental dialogue.

“It gives retailers the opportunity to then start talking [to farmers] about the sustainability issue – whole carcass purchase for example, to cut out some of the waste,” he said.

He added that market information and data intelligence on adaptation methods to reduce waste in feed regimes for instance, could also be supplied to farmers in this way.

“You can do that research centrally and then disseminate it to maybe 200 to 300 farmers in one go and effect your whole supply chain. We’ve seen a lot of it in the diary chain and now in the red meat chain, and going forward into lots of other areas of primary produce.”

While admitting that multi-tier supply chains still presented a challenge for retailers in terms of reach and influence, Opie said the key was to build in contractual terms with food processors and manufacturers that would effect supplier relations further downstream.

That said, the BRC feels that most of the big gains in waste reduction at retail, store and distribution level have been made – the challenge going forward is tackling post-consumer waste.

Quoting food waste as an example, Opie said that there were still 7.2m tonnes of household food waste going to landfill compared to 360,000 tonnes generated within retail distribution.

“The big impact is with consumers … the obvious thing to go after now for is household food waste,” he maintained.

This will involve not only better communication and more consistent messaging on product handling and storage for customers, but smarter packaging solutions that could intelligently inform consumers when a perishable item is nearing its shelf life.

Opie said developments in nano-technology could potentially make it feasible in the future to build such functionality. into the packaging. “It’s one area that people are definitely looking at,” he confirmed.

Maxine Perella

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