retailers are joining forces to launch the UK’s first national food redistribution system to divert surplus products to those in need, The Grocer can reveal.

The big four, Waitrose, The Co-operative Group, Boots, retail associations and environment secretary Caroline Spelman, held a roundtable with charities FareShare and FoodCycle this week to discuss the idea.

Top of the agenda was how to create a national collection system from supermarkets. “We’ve all worked together in the past, but on a national scale nothing has really taken off,” said FareShare CEO Lindsay Boswell. “We’ve been talking to Defra about the management capacity required to put a national system in place, so we all sat down to discuss a central model.”

Retailers will now work on how to implement a system before meeting again next year.

FareShare director of food, Jim Trower, said the message he wanted to get across at the meeting was that “we should be feeding those in need before feeding machinery or pigs”.

“It may be easier for retailers to send food waste to anaerobic digestion plants, but feeding those in need is far more important,” he said.

“Shoppers have a hidden understanding of food waste and know it is necessary if their supermarket has all the products they need. If they knew this waste was being put to good use, they would feel more comfortable about it.”

FareShare distributes surplus food to 722 charities - feeding 36,500 people daily. Demand is at record levels.