The retail giant has made food waste reduction one of its three ‘big ambitions’ in its latest ‘Tesco and Society’ report released today – and published new data, including externally assured statistics, on the amount of waste generated for a full financial year.

During 2013/14, 56,580 tonnes of food were wasted across Tesco stores and distribution centres in the UK. According to the retailer, this figure represents less than 1% of the number of food products sold in its stores over this period.

“By sharing this information we have added important evidence to the debate on how to tackle food waste. We are now taking action to tackle hotspots across the value chain and are donating surplus food to those in need,” the report states.

According to Tesco’s commercial director, group food, Matt Simister the challenge now is to innovate to reduce this figure further and share best practice across all operating markets.

“The key to delivering real reductions is to identify where most waste occurs and design tailored solutions to tackling these hotspots,” he said. “We have been working to develop new insights into food waste, including waste profiles for 25 of our most frequently purchased food products.”

These products include potatoes, lamb, grapes and cheese. With potatoes for instance, Tesco is working to reduce losses in the field and is using satellite and aerial mapping technology to identify specific trends here. It is also introducing new technology to remove stones earlier in processing to reduce damage and considering the use of modified atmosphere packaging to increase shelf life.

Tesco is also shortening its supply chain for grapes, after discovering that 20% of grape production is wasted at various points in the value chain. Of that, around a third is lost in fields and almost two thirds is wasted in customers’ homes.

The retailer has guaranteed that it will buy at least 80% of grapes from its suppliers, enabling suppliers to better forecast demand and ensure they are less likely to end up with unsold grapes.

“As a result of this change, we have been able to cut out a stage in our distribution chain and reduce the time grapes take to arrive in the UK. This means that the code life on the product is increased, and in some cases we are giving customers an extra 10 days of freshness,” the report states.

The retailer is now rolling out a blueprint of best practice across its stores globally, to provide clear guidance on handling produce, store ordering and other waste reduction procedures.

In specific areas where the waste figures are high, it has targeted action plans -re-designing in-store bakeries for example, so that less bread is displayed at any one time and is replenished more frequently when demand is high.

On a wider level, the retailer is engaging with a number of influential parties to tackle food waste issues such as the World Resource Institute, where it will help participate in the development of a Food Loss & Waste Protocol, and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Looking ahead, Tesco intends to extend its food surplus work through re-distribution of edible products. In Ireland it is trialling the donation of surplus food to local charities using a mobile phone app.

Maxine Perella

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