Tesco boss calls for greater transparency to tackle food waste

EXCLUSIVE: Retailers are showing a "growing appetite" to collaborate to tackle food waste, but still need to provide clearer information and deliver better reporting standards to drive change, the chief executive of Britain's largest supermarket group has told edie.

Speaking in relation to his work with the Champions 12.3 coalition of executives to help tackle food waste, Dave Lewis said that the competitive world of retail is realising the effectiveness of taking a common approach to tackle food waste through collaborative, sector-wide action.

However, Lewis suggested that better communication and transparency will be needed from businesses to mobilise further action amongst suppliers and consumers.

“There is a growing appetite to work together across the industry to deal with this problem – and the hope is that Champions 12.3 can help take these partnerships further and be a platform for collaboration on this issue across business, government and charities,” Lewis said.

“We’ve got a shared responsibility to take action right across the food system – upstream in farms and production, but also downstream with customers and at home. It’s at these two ends of the value chain where the biggest amount of waste occurs. Two important areas of focus for helping consumers are around promotions and education.

“The benefits in measuring waste in this way are very significant. Providing external assurance means that anyone looking at the figures can be really confident that they are accurate. Once we have this level of transparency, we can start to set clear short and medium term targets for our businesses – and develop action plans to tackle hotspots and target interventions at a larger scale.”

Lewis is chair of the Champions 12.3 initiative, which was introduced in Davos in January 2016 to accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – halving food waste per capita and reducing food losses by 2030. The coalition is made up of more than 30 government, business and civil society leaders from across the world, including Nestle chief executive Paul Bulcke, former WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin and Unilever’s chief executive Paul Polman.

Through Champions 12.3, Lewis encouraged all 400 retailers, manufacturers and consumer goods service companies across 70 countries of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) to sign-up to the Champions initiative in June. New members are implored to publish their food waste data – including the levels of produce that get used as animal feed – to boost transparency.

With food waste estimated to cost around $940bn annually, Lewis is hoping the Champions 12.3 initiative – which calls on members to halve food waste within their own operations by 2025 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals – will inspire collaborative change.

Growing problem

But, as Lewis admitted, food waste is a “growing problem”. By 2050, it is estimated than an extra 70% of food will need be produced to feed the planet, despite wasting one third of all food that is currently produced.

For Lewis, a change in mindset is needed from farm to fork in order to catalyse this change. Tesco is already working at both ends of the food spectrum, with a specific focus on educating consumers on food waste.

The supermarket stopped offering buy-one-get-one-free promotions on fresh produce a few years ago due to customer concerns that it encourages more food waste. The firm also now offers Eat Happy school tours to educate younger generations on how to preserve food. However, Lewis admitted that more can be done in this area by all brands and manufacturers.

Tesco was also the first supermarket to make its food waste data publicly available, a decision which has since been taken by fellow supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. Lewis revealed that publishing this data can be “uncomfortable”, but that it would ultimately highlight any areas of potential  improvement for the company.

Tesco recorded a 4% rise in food waste in 2015. But a closer look at the data reveals a 2% reduction in waste from fresh produce and the firm has now taken steps to tackle food waste in its bakery and beers, wine and spirits section, which were big contributions to the rise in waste.

According to Lewis, Tesco has “built the most accurate picture ever of where food waste has occurred” through publishing this data, and the company has developed a plan for more accurate production plans for its in-store bakeries.

Community Food Connection

Tesco has also made a commitment for the end of 2017 that no food that is fit for human consumption will go to waste in UK operations. A key driver for this goal is Tesco’s partnership with food redistribution organisation FareShare under the Community Food Connection, which has seen Tesco pass on around 13 million meals for more than 2,200 charities.

On top of its work with FareShare and FoodCloud, Tesco has partnered with Innovate UK to issue a challenge to the entrepreneurial community, calling on innovators to develop projects aimed at reducing household food waste.

The company has also introduced initiatives that have allowed its supply chains to evolve into a more sustainable and efficient means of food sourcing. In the wake of criticism from the likes of Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall’s War on Waste TV series, Tesco introduced a “perfectly imperfect” range of wonky veg. Tesco’s head of food waste reduction Mark Little previously told edie that this could extend to at least 15 products in the future.

Matt Mace

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