Waste Not Want Not: how the biggest suppliers are performing
1. Unilever (27 / 40)
CEO Paul Polman has made no secret of his sustainable agenda for consumer goods giant Unilever with a personal commitment to cut food waste. He’s joined Tesco’s Dave Lewis on the UN committee to achieve Sustainability Development Goal 12.3, co-sponsored the CGF’s cross-industry work and has used countless interviews to plug the need for more work on waste.
For one of our experts this set the manufacturer apart. “From CEO level downwards, they are aligning the Unilever brand with a sustainable long term market presence and taking the moral high ground in zero waste to landfill,” they said. “I haven’t seen any other company of their scale get even close to that.”
By 2020 the business say its own waste will be reduced by 40% per tonne of production with a mix of tech and more efficient equipment. Redistribution will also play a role. A partnership with FareShare and the Trussell Trust has stopped more than 1,400 tonnes of food going to waste since 2011 and it also works with commercial redistributor Company Shop at two of its factory sites. Though one of our experts wasn’t impressed at these “minimal redistribution efforts” against a backdrop of £1.7bn in UK sales others thought it was “encouraging” and the truth is Unilever has undoubtedly channelled more attention to what it sees as two bigger issues, packaging and consumer waste.
Missing out manufacturing waste (on which its kept quiet) total waste footprint in 2015 was 800,000 tonnes globally from its products, 60% of which was packaging, 16% on transport and 25% from product leftovers. With a grandiose commitment to halve this by 2020 it’s begun reeling out initiatives, both practical and educational. The new Hellmann’s Easy Out bottle is one example which the manufacturer claims cut mayonnaise stuck in the bottle from 13% to just 3% while last month it announced its collaboration with Wrap to make recycling consistent across the UK as well as its Joint Ambition programme.
Ultimately “there’s a big difference between people who try to make changes to be leaner and more profitable, and those who actually try to change people’s habits and how they interact with their customers,” said another expert. “There Unilever has the edge.”
2. Nestle (26 / 40)
Nestle has paid close attention to food waste for years, according to our experts. The UK manufacturer was labelled nothing less than “a best practice example” for surplus management by one, with strategies “embedded in day to day operations” and “thresholds for identifying surplus as early as possible to reduce it in the first place.”
It’s paying off with all 13 NIM (Nestle in the Market) factories in the UK achieving zero waste to landfill last year with work ongoing to expand this across the company’s two distribution centres. Globally the manufacturer says it reduced waste for disposal by 28% in 2015 though damningly landfill still claims the vast majority (91%) of disposed waste material, with 4% sent for incineration and 5% to “other methods.”
In the last decade its built up redistribution efforts with 2,535 tonnes sent to FareShare, and a new scheme announced last year to store surplus ambient stock at its own sites to allow FareShare “smaller, frequent deliveries.”
However, these figures illustrate “masses of untapped potential in a business of immense scale,” according to one of our experts, with far more work to do on pushing surplus up the waste hierarchy at some sites.
3. Arla (23 / 40)
Dairy was flagged up by Wrap as one of the worst waste offenders earlier this year, with 340,000 tonnes lost in 2015 alone, of which nearly two thirds was edible. But market leader Arla has insisted its doing “massive amounts of work” to correct this.
Its set itself a target of 50% reduction by 2020 after achieving zero waste to landfill in 2011 and has proved itself “highly proactive” in working toward that, according to one expert.
Repurposing lost raw material such as acid whey has been high on the agenda with learnings circulated across the industry via its Maximum Yield campaign in March this year. It’s worked alongside Wrap to identify hot spots for food loss in the dairy supply chain with a report expected this Autumn. And it now sends 1,000 more tonnes of surplus liquid to animal feed rather than AD at its major dairy in Stourton.
But there’s still work to do. Not least nurturing a new partnership with FareShare that began only 12 months ago and looks to redivert in-date food that fails the minimum life on receipt required by retailers. With “an awful lot of own label in their portfolio there is a lot of opportunity” that hasn’t yet been realised at the manufacturer, added one expert.
4. Coca Cola (22 / 40)
Understandably it is waste water that has been top of the agenda for Coca Cola’s European distributors CCEP. Since 2007 volumes have decreased by 42%, a total of 13,920m3, and the amount needed to produce a litre of soft drink stands at 1.29 litres, down 16.3% in the past decade.
For a business that ships out 2.5 billion cases of drink each year this progress isn’t insignificant but it is slow. In fact, CCEP say they’ve invested only £45,000 in technologies such as water mapping and monitoring - a paltry sum for a company with annual sales of £8bn.
On disposal the drinks giant has progressed faster though. Zero packaging or food waste goes to landfill or incineration with 100% recycled or sent to AD instead. Here in the UK attention has been paid to shifting this surplus up the waste hierarchy too. In March this year CCE’s environment manager Wayne Boden reported that 800 tonnes of surplus soft drink products were rediverted from AD to animal feed or humans in 2015 thanks to a new “integrated process that allowed to CCE to review their production.”
However, the group are first to admit - and our experts agree - that “there is still much more to do” at the soft drinks distributor.
5. Associated British Foods (20 / 40)
Efforts are piecemeal across ABF despite an open acceptance that cutting down on waste “makes sense for our bottom line” as well as the environment.
At some of the manufacturer’s sites there’s been solid progress on dumping surplus in landfill sites. By 2012 both the Andover Twinning’s factory and Jordans & Ryvita site in Poole had abolished it and at the AB World Foods factory in Leigh, where 80 million jars of curry and 30 million poppadums are churned out, waste to landfill has been cut by two thirds since 2009.
But the brand owner doesn’t release breakdowns on where waste now ends up. And nor has it announced a timeline for other major production sites.
Some is clearly heading for charity with leftover sugar and flour among ambient products finding its way to FareShare (though no total has been released). Finance director John Bason also lends fmcg expertise to the organisation in his role as Chair of the Trustees.
And ABF say cutting back consumer waste is uppermost when developing new products, one of the motivations behind its creation of the Little Big Loaf in 2009 for single shoppers or families unable to get through a standard loaf.
But without an all-encompassing goal to reduce waste, outside their commitment to Courtauld, ABF isn’t throwing its full weight behind the cause.
6. 2 Sisters (19 / 40)
Chicken King Ranjit Singh Boparan hasn’t built up 2 Sisters into the UK’s biggest manufacturer (with profits soaring 25% at the last count) without a solid head for money. It’s unsurprising then that one expert described the company’s approach to food waste as “very, very commercial” with the emerging economic benefits encouraging more interest from the manufacturer in the last 12 months.
In 2015 it set itself a target to reduce food waste by 5% every year until 2018, with new targets taking it up to 2020 to be set in the next few months. On disposal it has played its cards closer to its chest however committing only to “aim not to dispose of any food waste, instead following the hierarchy of reuse.” Staff are given access to some surplus via on-site Company Shop outlets and it’s dabbled in charitable redistribution too with £200k of stock sent to FareShare in the last financial year.
But unashamedly focused on the bottom line its ploughed most effort into creating “lean and continuous improvement activities” to cut production waste in the first place as well as working alongside suppliers to introduce better forecasting, planning and container sizes.
7. Muller UK & Ireland (18 / 40)
Hiding behind collective action Muller has failed to take a leading stance on waste.
Though it backs the Dairy Roadmap, which sets out manufacturing targets for all dairies to cut down food and packaging waste, and uses the Dairy Benchmarking Process to measure performance at each of its XX sites it hasn’t reported on its individual progress.
Likewise, though signed up to Courtauld it hasn’t stretched itself beyond these voluntary targets preferring to report back collectively alongside the other 53 retailers, brands and manufacturers and crucially it hasn’t yet signed up to the latest phase, Courtauld 2025.
And while it highlights efforts to “contribute to a number of supplier platforms for sharing ideas and best practices” including those overseen by Tesco, Asda and M&S, and business community 2degrees this scheme once again allows it to blend into 52,000 other professionals from 181 countries.
The dairy does work with FareShare to redivert surplus however and has done for many years, with its Shropshire site providing off-spec yoghurts as far back as 2009.
And experts say there are signs the business is growing “increasingly engaged” on the issue, with an ongoing effort to “align all environmental systems through the group” surely the perfect opportunity to leave the pack behind and take a stand.
8. Bakkavor (16 / 40)
Dealing in anonymised own label Bakkavor has largely been let off the hook on food waste, despite its products ending up in many of the UK supermarkets firmly under scrutiny. But with tonnes of short shelf-life fresh veg, salads, and bakery produced at the manufacturers sites expectations should be higher.
The company is yet to achieve zero to landfill (with 0.5% of food still binned) and lacks a clear deadline to close the gap. Even more worrying is the absence of Bakkavor from lists of either Courtauld 3 or Courtauld 2025 signatories leaving it bereft of any target on reduction. All the supplier will say is it is “successfully making progress in this area.”
On redistribution it is doing better. Staff can buy up discounted surplus stock in an “extensive network of staff shops” and it works with both FareShare, Company Shop and local charities. Once again though figures by any metric are missing leaving it impossible to verify.
9. Princes (15 / 40)
Specialising in canned fish, veg and oils Princes say the long shelf life of its products leave it unburdened by the food waste of other major manufacturers. But with the relevant data it “measures and reviews proactively across all operations” unavailable to scrutinise it’s impossible to know to what extent this is true.
The company will share that 98% of all waste is recycled or reused as it moves toward a target for zero waste to landfill by 2020 but food waste is lumped in with packaging. It does “not have specific food waste or redistribution targets,” once again due to the long shelf-life of its portfolio, though individual sites may have internal targets “where applicable.” In 2013 the ambient specialist also formalised a partnership with FareShare though figures on how much it has so far rediverted are unavailable. It does include unused samples from its UK offices too though.
Work with suppliers is also sporadic taking place on a “case by case basis” and there’s little concrete evidence of the supplier entering fully into the public debate on waste.
10. Mondelez (14 / 40)
Buried beneath endless global targets on sat fats, labelling, palm oil and carbon the progress of Mondelez UK on food waste is indecipherable.
The company says it has reduced net waste by 70% per tonne, five times its original 2015 target of 15%, but figures aren’t broken down by region nor is any context given on what this includes, how its calculated or - crucially - where it started. Sixty-eight per cent of production in 2015 came from zero waste to landfill sites, it adds, leaving it woefully behind some competitors, although Mondelez boast this exceeded its initial 60% goal.
Meanwhile redistribution efforts look “ad hoc” at best with no formalised programme in place despite some short-shelf life brands like Philadelphia surely producing some edible surplus.