£1.9bn of food wasted by grocery supply chain each year

Co-op joins FareShare to redistribute surplus foodAround 1.1 million tonnes of food waste in the UK grocery supply chain, worth £1.9 billion, could be avoided every year, according to new research from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Published today (17 May), ‘Quantification of food surplus, waste and related materials in the grocery supply chain’, funded mainly by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and Welsh Government and carried out by Anthesis, for the first time breaks down food waste figures into manufacturing sub-sectors such as meat and dairy.

The study found that 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK grocery supply chain every year, of which 56 per cent is avoidable.

While the report does suggest that the food manufacturing and retail sectors are ‘highly efficient’, with a current surplus and waste level of less than five per cent, a further 450,000 tonnes a year could ‘realistically’ be prevented by 2025. This would constitute a further reduction of 23 per cent compared to currently reported food waste levels.

The retail sector contributed 210,000 tonnes to WRAP’s overall food waste figure, while waste from manufacturing was responsible for around 1.7 million tonnes – which represents a 10 per cent reduction in food waste generation from manufacturing since 2011.

£1.9bn of food wasted by grocery supply chain each yearManufacturing sub-sectors

Around 4.2 per cent of UK food manufactured becomes food waste or surplus. The WRAP report breaks down the avoidable waste created by the manufacturing process to provide a picture of the different sub-sectors of the industry.

The manufacture of dairy products produces the most avoidable food waste. Around 200,000 tonnes of waste is created every year in the sector, representing 23 per cent of the total avoidable food waste in the UK food manufacturing industry.

Meat, fish and poultry contributed the second highest waste figures in the research at 160,000 tonnes (18 per cent of the total food waste), followed by ambient products (shelf-stable foods) at 130,000 tonnes (15 per cent).

Surplus redistribution

The report shows that in 2015 there was a surplus of 0.7 million tonnes of food and drink either being redistributed (47,000 tonnes – the equivalent to around 90 million meals) or diverted for the production of animal feed (660,000 tonnes). WRAP identifies that a further 270,000 tonnes of surplus may be suitable for redistribution.

Research suggests that even with action to increase the prevention of food waste (potentially saving businesses £300 million a year), there will still be the opportunity to increase redistribution four-fold, to the equivalent of at least 360 million meals.

The study found that there was often a poor understanding across the sector about the sorts of surplus that were within scope for redistribution and how businesses with food surpluses can partner with redistribution organisations. 

WRAP says that to aid this development it will establish a Redistribution Working Group under Courtauld 2025 to understand more about the implications associated with realising redistribution potential. In particular, it says, it will be helpful to share insights from retailer back of store and manufacturing trials that have been undertaken in different parts of the UK during 2015 and early 2016.

Collaborative improvements

WRAP says that insights from the report will be shared with signatories of Courtauld 2025, the newest iteration of the commitment to reduce retail chain waste that was launched in March.

A 10-year voluntary agreement, it aims to bring together organisations involved in the food system to make food and drink production and consumption more sustainable. One of the targets is to reduce the amount of food waste across the system.

According to WRAP, collaborative action is needed to target priority areas identified in the report. For example, work between brands and retailers to tackle some of the in-store food waste, and retailers and manufacturers in addressing opportunities around forecasting.

Dr Richard Swannell, Director at WRAP, said: “Today’s report, which uses new and more robust methodologies, gives us the clearest indication yet of where, and why, food surpluses and waste occur.

“Through a combination of prevention, redistribution to people and diversion to animal feed, the grocery supply chain could, in the next 10 years, almost halve its avoidable food waste, from 2009 when we first started work in this area. This will significantly contribute to delivering the Courtauld 2025 food waste prevention target.”

To help food manufacturers and retailers tackle the food surplus and waste, WRAP has published technical guidance, tools and case studies for businesses, including ‘Guidance for Food and Drink Manufacturers and Retailers on the Use of Food Surplus as Animal Feed’, published alongside the report today.

This resource helps identify, manage and divert food surplus to animal feed in line with relevant legislation. It is a companion piece to WRAP’s ‘Framework for Effective Redistribution Partnerships’, which helps people to set up redistribution arrangements between retailers, manufacturers and charities.

‘A real opportunity to stop even more surplus food waste’

Company Shop Commercial Director Tom Rumboll said: “We welcome today’s report, which gives us the best picture we’ve ever had of the root causes, quantity and nature of surplus food in the supply chain.

“It is very clear from the study that there is much more to do and we have a real opportunity to stop even more surplus food from becoming waste. To unlock this surplus stock and enable it to reach people’s plates, we all need to support greater collaboration between retailers, manufacturers and redistribution organisations.”

Lindsay Boswell, CEO of food redistribution organisation FareShare, added: “More than 450 food companies already work in partnership with FareShare to redistribute surplus food to the people who need it most. Yet only about 10,000 tonnes of surplus food is currently redistributed to charities each year, so there’s clearly huge potential to do more.

“Some food businesses may be unsure about the types of surplus food they can redistribute or feel daunted by the process, but FareShare will work with them to make it as easy and cost-effective as possible to identify and redistribute their good, surplus food to the people who need it most.”

The full report can be downloaded from WRAP’s website.