In a special guest blog for The Grocer, Tesco CEO and chair of Champions 12.3 Dave Lewis explores how a Target, Measure and Act system could be key to tackling UK food waste

wonky veg food waste

The UK food industry is further ahead on food waste than many around the world, but as more and more companies join the fight, now is the time for the hard work to really begin

2018 has seen steady progress in the fight on food waste in the UK. We’ve seen more food companies and supermarkets publishing their own food waste data, new ranges of ‘wonky’ veg introduced and, today, the welcome news that the wider UK food industry has committed to Target, Measure and Act on food waste.

And it comes at just the right time.

Today marks the second annual ‘Champions 12.3’ event in New York, a meeting of leaders from across business, government and civil society to help accelerate progress towards achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030. I have the honour of chairing Champions 12.3.

Since Champions was formed, we’ve worked hard to highlight the scale of the issue to countries, cities and companies around the world. We’ve talked about the tragedy of good food going to waste when people still go to bed hungry each night. We’ve talked about the business argument. About the millions lost in economic losses each year. And we’ve talked about the environmental impact on the planet – arguments that have been driven tirelessly by The Grocer’s own Waste Not Want Not campaign. The UK food industry is further ahead than many around the world, but as more and more companies join the fight, now is the time to really double down on our efforts. It’s time for the hard work to really begin.

Read more: Wrap and IGD unveil ‘landmark’ Food Waste Reduction Roadmap

At the heart of the Champions 12.3 approach to Target, Measure and Act is a simple belief: you have to understand where food is wasted before you can tackle it. You have to know where to find the hotspots, from farm to fork. And you have to share what you find.

We’re clear that individual companies publicly measuring and reporting on food waste and loss is critical. It makes it easier to identify where we need to work together to take action. It helps to demonstrate that businesses can be trusted to do the right thing. And crucially, it’s the only way we’ll know whether the world is on course to reaching Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

There’s no doubt that the decision to publish can be a difficult one. When we first decided to publish Tesco data in the UK in 2013 it was painful to provide that level of transparency. But it’s been instrumental in our battle against food waste.

It’s changed how we view food waste as a company. We set a target that no food that’s safe for human consumption is wasted in our UK business. Over the last two years, as a result of our efforts we have reached over 70% of this target. It’s led us to have totally different conversations with suppliers – conversations that lead to different actions, whether it’s stretching our specifications to take more crop or creating great-tasting products from produce that may otherwise have gone to waste. These conversations have led to 27 of our own-brand suppliers committing to act on food waste and publish their data today (25 September), and 10 big brand names such as Mars, Unilever and General Mills committing to do the same within 12 months. That’s a huge step forward.

Read more: Supers responsible for food waste reduction, say shoppers

Taking the plunge and publishing your food waste data can be daunting but it’s the right thing to do. Because in this fight against food waste there can be no half measures. When we live in a world where one in nine go to bed hungry each night, we have a moral obligation to make sure that good food doesn’t go to waste. To make sure that natural resources are being used wisely. But we also have an obligation to our shareholders and our customers too. To be as efficient as we can possibly be. To be more innovative. To deliver growth. And to earn our customers trust in the process.

It’s fair to say that we’ve come a long way in the last year. Twelve months ago, Tesco and Champions 12.3 combined with the IGD and Wrap to agree and implement a common set of principles to measure and publish food waste data. The result is today’s new industry-wide commitment. It’s my hope that this will result in many more UK companies publishing their data in the coming months, showing the world what can be done.

Ultimately, tackling food waste is difficult. It’s complex. And it requires concerted action from businesses big and small, farm to fork. Both today and in the years to come.

It certainly won’t be easy. But there is no time to waste.

Dave Lewis is chair of Champions 12.3 and CEO of Tesco