Food redistribution bosses have hailed a “symbolic and seismic moment” in the battle to fight food poverty after an unparalleled group of supermarket and supplier CEOs gathered to commit to new action on hunger.

FareShare’s Alliance Manufacturing strategy, which was launched yesterday as part of King Charles’s Coronation Food Project, will see retailers and their suppliers produce thousands of tonnes of food specifically for food charities, in a bid to address a hunger crisis which charities warn is now worse than seen during the pandemic.

Among CEOs from nearly 20 major companies who gathered at the charity’s Thames Valley partner in Oxfordshire were Tesco CEO Ken Murphy, new Morrisons boss Rami Baitieh and Sainsbury’s CEO Simon Roberts.

Major suppliers represented included 2 Sisters, Bakkavor and Greencore, with the ground-breaking scheme set to “revolutionise” the way the industry handles food surplus, according to FareShare and its partners.

The Grocer revealed earlier this month that supermarkets and suppliers had agreed to produce tens of millions of extra meals to fight hunger, in a response to plans driven by King Charles’s new project.

Now full details show the unprecedented scale of the scheme and the long list of backers, which also includes Waitrose, Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Nestlé, Warburtons and Cranswick.

Companies have agreed to new collaboration which will see surplus food and underutilised and donated resources in all forms – including food, packaging, labour hours and factory and distribution capacity – shared between companies to create a joined-up supply chain response to help the thousands of charities struggling to provide food.

Among examples that have already emerged, 2 Sisters has created a hub of all its suppliers, Sainsbury’s is working alongside Greencore and Cranswick, and Tesco has created a hub with Bakkavor and Samworths

The companies have also signed up to a four-point pledge which promises to “relentlessly focus on reducing all forms of waste in the supply chain – food, packaging, underutilised labour/capacity – and on producing food for the community sector in the most cost-efficient manner for all project members”.

They promised to put “competitive differences aside to actively work together across industry and charities alike, sharing resources and learning to maximise our combined impact to reduce waste across the entire UK food supply chain”.

FareShare is working with consultants, as well as IGD and Wrap, to make sure the work is co-ordinated, though it is avoiding setting a specific target for the amount of food to be provided.

“Food redistribution should not be about competition and today feels like a truly unparalleled moment in the industry’s collaborative fight against hunger,” FareShare CEO George Wright told The Grocer.

“We already have millions of meals being produced for charities as a result of this ground-breaking new way of working, but this is just the start. We don’t see this as a one-off, we see it as a step change in the way the industry tackles food redistribution from now onwards.”

Wright said the latest figures from FareShare had estimated a deficit of 680 million meals needed to feed those facing hunger.

Charlotte Hill, CEO of The Felix Project, which is also spearheading the project, said the charity was helping 1,000 charities but had a further 650 on its waiting list.

“We are talking about primary schools who have children going into school hungry, refugees who have fled from persecution and families who can’t feed their children,” she said.

Despite today’s breakthrough, FareShare said it was continuing to urge the government to do more to tackle the “scandalous” amount of food that was being wasted on farms, which will not be affected by the new arrangements.

FareShare estimates that a staggering 3.3 million tonnes of food is wasted before it even leaves the farmgate, and claims much of this could be avoided if the government provided £25m a year in funding to help transport surplus.

Asda chief commercial officer Kris Comerford, who was one of those at the event, said it was an “historic” initiative.

“Inspired by the leadership of King Charles III, it aligns so well with our core targets to support our communities and reduce food waste,” he said.

“We are delighted to be able to further strengthen our relationship with FareShare by donating the equivalent of one million meals at a time that is hardest for the most vulnerable in our communities, alongside the other fantastic work that is already being done through our existing food donation partnerships.”

IGD CEO Sarah Bradbury said: “The Coronation Food Project is a fantastic opportunity to drive tangible change, as we look for new and innovative ways to reduce food waste across the supply chain as well as support those in need across our communities.

“The response to date has been incredible. I would genuinely encourage any other organisation that wants to get involved, to do so now.”