Tesco issues rallying call for innovators to help tackle food waste

EXCLUSIVE: Off the back of an impressive track record using innovative platforms to tackle the growing problem of food waste, Britain's biggest supermarket chain has reached out to innovators to introduce further waste reduction solutions.

Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of his appearance on stage at the edie Live exhibition today (17 May), Tesco’s head of food waste reduction Mark Little has revealed that the company is rolling-out the next phase of the Community Food Connection, while keeping an active interest in the latest innovations within the entrepreneurial industry.

“Tesco believes that innovation is absolutely key,” Little said. “We’ve seen its importance in our own operations through the partnership with FoodCloud. We’re starting to see it with household waste and a number of innovators that are out there could help us a go a very long way to reducing food waste.

“Whether it’s in our own operations, the supply chain or the household, we would like to put the call out to innovators to work in partnership to tackle waste from farm to fork. We’ve got a great track record for working with innovators, and given the size of the food waste challenge this isn’t something Tesco can solve on its own; innovation will be critical.”

Earlier this year, Tesco commenced a national roll-out of its innovative online Community Food Connection, which redirects surplus food from stores to provide millions of meals to local charities and community groups across the country.

The scheme, which was introduced through a partnership with UK food redistribution charity FareShare and social enterprise platform FoodCloud, has already been successfully implemented at more than 150 stores, creating an excess of 350,000 meals for around 940 charities nationwide.

Little revealed that the scheme has been introduced to a further 100 stores across the UK, as of this week, with an overall aim to implement it across all stores by 2017.

Outside of its work with FareShare and FoodCloud, Tesco has also 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 judging for the Future of Retail initiative took place last month, with mechanical and electronic design engineers THAW Technology announced as the winners last week. The successful proposal aims to develop a “Use-by-Mate” e-receipt system, which takes advantage of the next generation of bar codes which can contain information such as use by and best before dates, which can be integrated within the Tesco mobile app.

“There is an opportunity to use this information to help customers understand when a product may be going out of date as well as other information such as suggested recipe ideas. We think this is an exciting concept and look forward to working with the winning team to trial their technology,” Little said.

Developing history

Tesco’s work with Innovate UK is the latest in a line of food waste initiatives that have been introduced by the group to boost efficiency in relation to household food waste. As well as connecting Central European stores and facilities to national food banks, Tesco is also trialling charity connections in Malaysia and Thailand.

The company has introduced initiatives that have allowed its supply chains to evolve into a more sustainable and efficient means of food sourcing. In the wake of vocal criticism from the likes of Jamie Oliver and Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall’s War on Waste series, Tesco introduced a “perfectly imperfect” range of wonky veg, which Little believes will grow to at least 15 products in the future.

But for Little, it is the “behind-the-scenes” work that Tesco is striving towards that is really making the difference for both consumers and the broader food waste issue. “We’ve broadened our specifications and worked with suppliers to provide our orders earlier, which means they can shift exactly the right amount for our stores and doesn’t sit in UK pack houses,” he said. “It cuts time out of the chain, reduces waste in the pack houses, but also giving customers a fresher product.

“Our starting point for waste is that of a shared responsibility. We need to ensure that our own house is in order, but by doing that we can help customers out behind the scenes.”

On top of the wonky veg range, Tesco has also introduced a new form of skin packaging – which is used to add at least five more days to the freshness of meat – as well as setting up Agricultural Hubs to specify food waste causes.

The Hubs, staffed with trained agronomists across Europe, South America and Africa, recently flagged issues with Tesco’s sourcing on fine beans for the unnecessary waste it was creating on farms in Kenya. By widening its specification, Tesco has stopped trimming the beans resulting in a 15% reduction in waste on farms.

The numerous initiatives that Tesco has put time and effort into have been embodied through the company’s work under the Champions 12.3 coalition. Chaired by Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis – and made up of pioneering leaders including WRAP’s Liz Goodwin and Unilever’s Paul Polman – the group’s stated goal is to accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – halving food waste per capita and reducing food losses by 2030.

Mark Little at edie Live

Mark Little will be speaking on the edie Leaders Theatre at edie Live today, discussing how to get the consumer to think about waste, alongside associates from AECOM and Forum for the Future.

If you manage your company’s energy, sustainability, environmental or corporate responsibility, the two-day edie Live exhibition provides you with free pass to all the learning, peer-to-peer networking, innovative suppliers and inspiration you need to drive sustainability through your organisation.

View the full edie Live agenda and register to attend for free here.

Matt Mace

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