It’s hard to believe that as a nation we spend £40bn on eating out each year and yet four million adults and children in the UK go hungry. What is more, 5.8 million people are now classed as living in “deep poverty” - meaning they struggle to afford food.
Record unemployment and spending cuts continue to hit hard and hunger is increasing. At the same time, the local community charities that many vulnerable people increasingly rely upon are feeling the pressure of increased funding cuts. Food poverty is a very real problem and it’s getting worse, not better.
When I took up my role at Asda just over 12 months ago, I had a very clear ambition: to build a world-class sustainable supply chain. A big part of that was making a solid commitment to drive out unnecessary and costly food waste from our supply chain.
Wrap estimates that 362,000 tonnes of food is wasted in the retail sector each year: 4,000 tonnes in distribution, 300,000 to 450,000 tonnes in supply chain and 2,519,000 tonnes in manufacturing. Added to waste in the home, UK food waste each year has reached an alarming level.
“We’ve found a way of turning a supply chain headache into a solution”
For the food industry, the problem often arises when suppliers send ‘overs’ rather than ‘unders’. Even a couple of extra cases here and there can quickly add up to thousands of surplus cases each week: consider that nine million cases of fresh food are delivered to Asda each week.
As my peers know all too well, it’s not as simple as just sending surplus stock back. Supermarket supply chains today are complicated and returning stock that still legally belongs to suppliers takes time, incurs cost and adds to road miles. And, of course, the food is often out of date by the time it reaches the supplier.
Having scrutinised our own supply chain, we’ve found a relatively simple way of turning an supply chain headache into a solution that will see an additional 3.6 million meals provided each year to vulnerable people across the UK. From this week, we will redistribute surplus stock from within our supply chain across the UK via food redistribution charity FareShare.
The partnership between our suppliers and logistics partners will increase the quantity of chilled food sent to FareShare across the UK by 1,500 tonnes per year. That equates to a 41% increase in the total amount of food currently redistributed by FareShare and a cost saving of more than £4.5m for the 900 local charities it supplies.
We know from our Community Life programme that in the past few years there have been unprecedented financial pressures on local charities. In the past year alone, FareShare saw a 26% increase in the number of charities turning to it for food - its largest-ever annual increase in charity membership.
I am proud of the work Asda has done, and hope it will inspire others to look at their own supply chains to find innovative ways to help redistribute otherwise wasted food. It’s a well-known fact that the best ideas are often the simplest - my mantra is ‘simple, connected, driven’ - and we hope our partnership with FareShare will be just that.
Barry Williams is chief merchandising officer for food at Asda