Food firm discloses supply chain waste reduction secrets

A leading independent UK food distributor is using an enterprise resource planning system to gather information on wasted products, helping managers identify trends and target waste across the supply chain.

Reynolds is a family-run business that supplies fresh food and chilled products to around 3,000 restaurant groups, contract caterers and high-end hoteliers and restaurateurs.

Speaking at a food waste conference in London yesterday, its technical director Ian Booth told delegates that the company continuously reviewed operations throughout the supply chain to improve resource efficiency.

Booth cited Reynolds’ war on waste, a board-led project that requires each board member to look at waste issues across the business as well as its suppliers and customers on a weekly basis.

“There’s a number of things that we’ll do within our team,” he said. “Are we getting the best possible life out of the product? Have we worked with our suppliers to see if that life can be extended?

“How can we understand the supply chain temperature control on that chain and see how we can get the longest potential shelf life?”

As a food distributor, Booth explained that the company had to prioritise food safety and quality, but added that food wastage was closely linked.

Working with national and international suppliers, he explained that one of the biggest challenges was adapting to seasonal changes when products from the domestic market are replaced by products from overseas.

“There can be differences on temperature, sunlight and distribution time and they all affect the quality. Obviously, quality affects the amount of life that it has on the product and that can affect how much our customer gets and potentially how much waste that customer has.”

Booth highlighted the challenges of dealing with particular food stuffs and the length of the quality-life of those products when they arrive at the company.

He explained that Reynolds needed to treat products that are picked later in the season from particular countries differently because they can have a higher oil content, which is good for quality but raises distribution issues.

“If we are ripening a banana, how ripe do we make it? In winter you want it to be slightly riper ready to provide it to your customer,” he said.

“In the summer, you want it slightly less ripe because it’s hot in the kitchens and it’s going to ripen quicker so potentially they are going to get more food waste.”

Booth went on to say that the company also reduced food waste by working with its customers to forecast menu changes. This, he said, enabled the business to adapt the type and volume of food that it supplied to its customers.

He added that food waste could also be reduced by providing the right food product for its intended use.

“If we have a class 1 product, a round mushroom that the customer expects, why not have a catering product as well, which can be misshaped? It doesn’t matter then if it’s going to be cooked, you won’t see it.”

Reynolds has also cut waste through product development such as its line of prepared vegetables for customers.

“If you take a carrot, you peel the carrot to make a certain shape, but you’ve got some off cuts that could be diced, which could be sold as another product or made as a stock mix for a soup,” Booth pointed out.

Nick Warburton

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