Food waste


When Tesco announced food waste figures for the first time it was slated. That was in 2013. But judging by reaction to the disclosure of new figures from 27 Tesco own-label suppliers (showing food waste totalling 700,000 tonnes), the media has grown up.

Yes, the figures are in many cases shocking, but at least these companies have taken the plunge, unlike far too many who have hidden behind aggregated figures from Wrap and the BRC for so long. And rather than name and shame, the media’s muted coverage suggested an appreciation for these suppliers, who’ve stuck their heads above the parapet, as well as a rare respect for the nuances of production that led to such wildly differing waste levels.

It helped that Tesco also announced, at the UN Champions 12.3 meeting in New York this week, that 10 leading branded suppliers, including Unilever and Mars, were committing to do the same. And it was even more co-ordinated than that, with Wrap/IGD announcing that at least 100 leading grocery retailers and suppliers will provide breakdowns of food waste, using a unified methodology, by next September, under the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap. They will also align efforts with the UN Sustainable Development Goal to halve waste by 2030.

This is a triumph for transparency. But the real value in measuring waste, and disclosing it, is the actions that result. And it’s clear from the experience of Tesco’s suppliers that action is being taken already, with 22 of them outlining how they have ramped up redistribution, reduced waste, or turned waste that would have previously gone to landfill into products.

It’s a huge moment. Or “transformational” as Wrap CEO Marcus Gover put it. And while, in many ways, the public has moved on from food waste - with the fight against plastic now front and centre of shoppers’ minds, petitions springing up against supermarkets every week, and Theresa May and Michael Gove vowing to eliminate single-use plastic - it’s a reminder of the time it takes to achieve such wholesale change. It took lengthy complex negotiations, hundreds of meetings and expert advice. But it was worth the wait.