FareShare warehouse - Emily & Kristian

Emily and Kristian - warehouse workers for FareShare food redistribution charity

In a crisis, collaboration always beats competition.

I’ve been at FareShare for just over six months. Throughout my time in retail, we’ve seen all kinds of crises – food scares, Covid, Brexit, labour/driver shortages and more. But this feels like the biggest challenge yet.

Annual food waste in the UK supply chain is estimated to be up to six million tonnes, and contributes around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a staggering amount.

Surplus food redistribution may not be the solution to hunger, but it plays a major role in supplying thousands of charities who support people in need – everything from school clubs to homelessness refuges and all points in between. With 13 million people in food insecurity, demand for that food has skyrocketed.

We are in an environmental and social crisis on a scale that rivals any other we’ve faced. It also demands the same level of collaborative response.

Yet, a relatively small amount of our surplus gets redistributed every year – around 170,000 tonnes. Proportionately, that’s half as much as in the US, through organisations such as Feeding America.

I’ve met many inspiring people in the UK redistribution sector – charities, retailers, manufacturers, growers, and tech providers – who play a crucial role in reducing waste and supporting frontline charities. Each have fantastic individual strengths, but none of us have a complete solution.

Additionally, the comparatively high number of organisations in the UK sector means we’re largely deploying resources – people, trucks, tech products, money – trying to secure the same food from the same sources, primarily finished goods from retailers and manufacturers. It’s inefficient for everyone, not least the frontline charities.

Of course, there is a lot more food waste to go after, but other sources such asfarmgate and manufacturing are typically more expensive and difficult to extract in large quantities.

Morrisons Fareshare

Every retailer and manufacturer has a plan to reduce finished goods waste. That’s a good thing, and it’s already coming down. Meanwhile, every redistribution charity needs more food, and they mostly have plans to expand. Something has to give.

Where supply is greater than demand, competition is a good thing. It can make us more efficient, innovative, and give customers greater choice. We’ve seen new entrants in recent years that do a great job.

The difference now is that demand outstrips supply by at least double, and our end beneficiaries can’t afford choices. Market evolution takes time, and competitive volume switching, from tenders or tactical activities, means hardworking frontline charities and their beneficiaries can lose out. Surplus food is highly variable by nature, and adding market volatility makes that worse.

There is another option. We could combine our resources and individual strengths across the industry. That has the greatest chance of creating a step change in the amount of food that gets redistributed. It would take all of us combined – retailers, manufacturers, charities, and tech companies – to create something like that.

We could create an integrated, sector-wide sourcing exchange with expert resources in waste reduction, an optimised logistics network for efficient redistribution to the areas of greatest need, and a single tech platform that integrates the necessary functionality in one place. That would not only extract more from existing sources, it would enable us to allocate more resources to the difficult-to-extract food waste sources that exist up the supply chain. That’s where the big opportunity is.

It is by no means easy, but achievable if we all join forces. I don’t mean mergers, but truly integrated alliances that combine our strengths to the benefit of the wider community. There are already some good examples – it’s about taking it to the next level.

There are many fantastic organisations and people in this space. We have the opportunity to make the UK a leader in the food redistribution field. But we’ve a long way to go, and we’d get there a lot quicker together.