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Many supply chain companies have admitted to deprioritising food waste

“Unprecedented” pressure on supply chains has led to a 60% increase in food waste over the past six months, food buyers in the UK’s biggest organisations have claimed.

Supply chain leaders have said the current crisis is casting doubts on the food industry’s ability to meet the United Nations’ goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 and “hampering progress” to net zero.

The crisis, which is the result of several factors from Brexit, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, has caused “long-term damage” to food supply chain operations, with many companies claiming it is resulting in higher levels of food waste.

According to a new study by Sodexo, more than a third of businesses admitted to deprioritising food waste due to the ongoing challenges in the supply chain over the past year.

While the vast majority of respondents (83%) said they had created a more resilient supply chain after the pandemic, food waste was still increasing for most companies.

“Sodexo’s findings relating to a rise in self-reported food waste are worrying, but not unexpected given the pressures put on supply chains in recent years,” said Keith James, head of policy and insights at Wrap, which is set to publish its own UK food waste data later this year.

“The global supply chain crisis has forced retailers to focus more on addressing the short-term impact of supply interruption events,” added Chris Irish, senior manager at consulting firm Capgemini Invent.

“Many buying and supply chain teams have invested in alternative product ranges, diversified supply or have increased stock on hand on particular products to protect on-shelf availability. This does present a level of risk, particularly on short-dated products.”

Reducing food waste is a fundamental part of slashing carbon emissions in the supply chain, and a key element to achieving the UN’s net zero goals. The research showed 34% of supply chain heads supported the introduction of mandatory food waste reporting, which was one of the proposals featured in the government’s food strategy.

However, the supply chain woes behind a rise in food waste are set to continue throughout 2022 – nearly a third of supply chain companies said their operations will not return to optimum efficiency for a full year.

Some of the main challenges currently include labour shortages (44% of businesses are still suffering the impact) and freight difficulties.

As a result of the continuing struggles, over a third of those in the supply chain admitted they would be forced to further raise prices along the line.

Sodexo’s research showed that many food buyers are diversifying their supplier base and turning to SMEs and domestic suppliers in order to strengthen their supply chain and mitigate the impact of the crisis.

“SMEs can enable greater agility because they’re more flexible, innovative and tend to drive domestic food sourcing which, in turn, can reduce carbon by cutting down on air and freight usage,” said Aoife Wycherley, head of supply chain & food procurement at Sodexo UK & Ireland.

But Wycherley pointed out that carbon data reporting is a greater burden on smaller businesses, which is why “we need greater industry collaboration from large organisations to support them with this challenge in order to achieve net zero in the supply chain”.