Credit_Gary Hamill_caption ellie and phil in poplar with crates of felix food 3

Source: Gary Hamill & Remi Bumstead

London-based The Felix Project is one of the many food redistribution groups working to tackle food poverty across the UK

The food industry contributed to the redistribution of over 106,000 tonnes of surplus food – or the equivalent to 253 million meals, worth more than £330m – in 2021.

Wrap said the collective efforts of retailers, food manufacturers, hospitality and foodservice businesses, as well as the voluntary sector, resulted in a yearly increase of surplus food redistribution of 16% – despite the challenges that plagued the industry over that period, including the supply chain crisis, labour shortages and rising food prices.

From 2020 to 2021, the increase of 14,500 tonnes was equal to food worth over £45m, or enough to provide 34 million meals.

Since Wrap first reported figures in 2015, redistribution has more than tripled. In total, 426,000 tonnes of surplus food worth more than £1.3bn has been redistributed since then – equivalent to more than a billion meals that would have otherwise gone to waste.

“The UK’s network of food charities provides a lifeline for many people, and while they serve a crucial function in supporting families, they are also a key environmental tool preventing food waste,” said Claire Shrewsbury, Wrap director of insights and innovation.

Additionally, the amount of surplus food charities handled in 2021 was a sixfold increase from six years ago. Last year, retail was the largest supplier of surplus food to the charitable sector, accounting for 45% of the total food received – or just over 30,000 tonnes of food.

Overall, retail contributed with 38% of all surplus food redistributed in 2021 (40,400 tonnes), while 40% came from manufacture (42,000 tonnes), 6% from hospitality and foodservice (6,600 tonnes), 4% from farm (4,300 tonnes) and 12% from mixed/other (13,200 tonnes).

Wrap food redistribution 2

Source: WRAP, 2022, Surplus food redistribution in the UK 2015 – 2021

The main types of food redistributed were largely the same each year, although the amounts of fresh meat and fish, drinks, and ambient food more than doubled from 2019 to 2021.

Last year, ambient and drinks made up the largest proportion of surplus food redistributed (35%), followed by chilled foods (23%), fresh produce (15%), unknown (16%), bakery (7%) and frozen (3%).

Food minister Victoria Prentis said: “Nobody wants to see good food go to waste. As a country, we waste enough food to fill up Wembley Stadium eight times every year.

“With a 16% increase in surplus food redistribution in 2021 and more than 106,000 tonnes of surplus food redistributed, reducing food waste is a great example of what we can achieve when we all come together.”

However, Wrap has said that there remain “significant opportunities” in the UK food manufacturing, retail, hospitality and foodservice, and primary production sectors to “continue to increase the amount of surplus food made available for redistribution from 2021 and beyond”.

Wrap food redistribution 1

Source: WRAP, 2022, Surplus food redistribution in the UK 2015 – 2021

While Covid-19 was one of the key motives behind more surplus food being made available in 2021, this was superseded by other factors in 2021.

Last year, those in food redistribution networks cited increased capacity (both in storing and distribution abilities as well as in staffing numbers), streamlined tech developments, increase in awareness and a higher number of manufacturers and retailers working with distributions as the main reasons for the rising supply numbers.

Grant funding provided by Defra in 2020 also allowed businesses and NGOs to increase their availability, capacity and capabilities. For instance, an £800,000 grant given to The Felix Project through the Resource Action Fund allowed it to open a depot in Poplar, London, leading to an increase of 25% in food it was able to rescue and redistribute.

“We are so thankful to Defra for generously funding our newest East London depot, allowing us the extra capacity to rescue more good food than ever before,” said Felix Project CEO Charlotte Hill.

“Now, in the face of a worsening cost of living crisis, it is even more vital that we work together to get food to our 1,000 community partners across London and to maximise the social value of this surplus food.”

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Meanwhile, many other food redistribution groups have warned that the cost of living crisis has significantly affected their ability to distribute food this year.

In addition to the rise in energy and fuel prices, surplus food redistribution groups and food charities alike have been experiencing unprecedented demand so far this year as the number of people battling food poverty continues to rise.

At the same time, according to Wrap’s estimates, the total amount of food surplus that could be suitable for redistribution (post-farmgate) could amount to between 170,000 and 190,000 tonnes a year.

“It’s devastating to see how much food continues to be wasted from supply chains when so many people are struggling to afford the basics, and food redistributors say they can take more,” said Catherine David, collaboration and change director at Wrap.

“Whilst we welcome the increased amount of food being redistributed in the UK, we know there is a huge amount of good food that could be feeding people.

“We urge all food businesses and their suppliers to adopt our guidance on redistribution as a priority and help more food get to the people who need it. The surplus food is there, and there is so much more that could be saved at this difficult time for UK families.”

Many supermarkets and other key players across the food industry have already signed up to the Courtauld 2030 working group, hence committing to the UK Food Waste Reduction Roadmap.

However, Wrap also highlighted that redistribution of surplus food was “not the answer to preventing food waste” and that priority should be given “to reducing the amount of food surplus and waste occurring in the first place”.