Dave Lewis on Tesco's call to arms on food waste

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There is no time to waste on food waste. Let me share three facts: one third of the world’s food is wasted, accounting for 1.3 billion tonnes. Almost a billion people - one in nine globally - go to sleep hungry each night. And food loss and waste costs the world $940bn each year. Incredible figures - yet I don’t feel we’re doing enough to reduce food waste.

I was at the Global Summit of the Consumer Goods Forum in Cape Town this week, where I spoke about how we can make more of a difference. And I also welcome the fact The Grocer, via its Waste Not Want Not campaign, is asking industry to get involved in a global issue we care passionately about and which, through Champions 12.3, we hope to make real progress in tackling.

I still think of myself as a newcomer to retailing, but I’ve learned more about food in two years at Tesco than I’ve done in many years. It’s been a journey that has left me with mixed emotions. Too often, I’ve seen examples across the supply chain of good, edible food being thrown away. We have to fix this - working together, across the food industry, in partnership.

Food waste occurs in three areas: in farming and production; within retail operations; and in our own homes. We need to take action in each.

That starts with retail. When I arrived at Tesco, we were the only UK retail company to publish our food waste data. What that data shows clearly is where we need to focus our efforts - so it’s really important that other retailers share their data in this way too. We hope The Grocer’s campaign also encourages others to publish their waste data.

When food waste does occur in our stores and operations, we have to make every conceivable effort to redistribute it to people in need. Earlier this year I made a very simple commitment to make sure all surplus food from UK stores is offered to charity by the end of 2017 - and through our partnership with FareShare and FoodCloud, that’s what we’re able to achieve.

We’re also partnering with producers and growers to tackle food waste in our supply chain. We’ve created a new range: Perfectly Imperfect, which means we can take much more of the crop, maximising the amount of fresh produce that we can sell in our stores. We are also changing the way that we forecast and order products so that growers and suppliers have more certainty about what we are going to order and when.

But where we have the biggest opportunity is in our own homes. We know that customers get annoyed with promotions that lead to uneaten food being thrown away. So at Tesco we’ve not run any ‘buy one get one free’ promotions on fresh fruit and veg since 2014. What we want to do now is work with our partners across the food industry to develop more, helpful promotions for customers that help people reduce waste.

So: transparency, innovation, redistribution. In each area, there are very specific things we need to do to reduce global food waste.

As I said in my speech, the reasons to act are huge - and we’ve got no time to waste.

Dave Lewis is chief executive officer of Tesco

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