Supply chain food redistribution grew 16 per cent in 2021

The UK’s food supply chain currently throws away more than 200,000 tonnes of food each year, according to a new report from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

An image of a supermarket trolly
The 2021 data updates WRAP’s previous report Surplus Food Redistribution in the UK 2015 to 2020, which highlights continuing growth in the redistribution of food that would otherwise go to waste.

The previous report highlighted that over the five-year period surplus food redistribution had more than tripled and that 320,000 tonnes of food worth over £1 billion was saved from going to waste.

Despite the new statistics finding that surplus food redistribution in the UK has continued to ‘rise significantly’ WRAP has announced that each year nearly 200,000 tonnes of ‘perfectly good food' still go to waste in the supply chain’.

However, the NGO has emphasised that collective effort between retailers, food manufacturers, hospitality and food service businesses and the voluntary sector, has presented a 16 per cent increase in surplus food redistribution in 2021. Last year alone, more than 106,000 tonnes of surplus food (the equivalent of 253 million meals) were redistributed via charitable and commercial outlets, with a value of more than £330 million.

According to WRAP, in 2021, charities also handled six times more surplus food than in 2015.

The commercial sector took the majority of surplus food from manufacturers in 2021, with grocery retailers the largest supplier to the charitable sector. The hospitality and food service sector continues to increase the tonnage of surplus food it redistributes.

Similar types of food are redistributed, with the amount of fresh meat and fish, drinks and ambient food doubling between 2019 and 2021. However, fresh produce, dairy, chilled pre-prepared and frozen food all fell in 2021, with bakery and chilled-prepared foods now lower than in 2019.

Work conducted through the ‘Courtauld 2030 Redistribution Working Group’ has been instrumental in increasing redistribution, says WRAP. This is due to grant-funding offered by the government, helping to significantly expand capacity and capabilities within the sector.

Grant support of more than £12 million, was awarded to around 250 projects, with funding and donations awarded from other UK governments and businesses.

Simultaneous to today's announcement, Defra’s Minister for Food, Victoria Prentis, attended the one-year anniversary of the opening of London-based food redistribution charity The Felix Project. This received an £800,000 Government grant under the Resource Action Fund, administered by WRAP on behalf of Defra, which enabled the charity to develop and furnish a new depot beside its existing kitchen and expand the amount of food it handles.

Two years ago WRAP published practice guidance on Redistribution of Own-Label surplus food products within the supply chain, aiming to drive up redistribution. It says it will continue to work with businesses to ‘implement this best practice across supply chains’, noting that uptake could be faster.

Catherine David, Director Collaboration and Change at WRAP, said: “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.

“Whilst we welcome the increased amount of food being redistributed in the UK, we know there is a huge amount of good food – 200,000 tonnes of it every year – that could be feeding people. Wasting food also feeds climate change, as all the resources taken to produce the food are thrown in the bin with it. 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.”

Claire Shrewsbury, Director Insights and Innovation at WRAP, also commented: “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.

“Grant support has significantly helped to speed up redistribution, not least during lockdown when we funded 230 not-for-profits with more than £3.8 million. [Through] the Resource Action Fund alone, a total of seventeen small and large scale organisations have been able to feed people and prevent nearly 30,500 tonnes of food from going to waste, saving around 122,600 tonnes of GHG emissions linked to food.”

“This created 27 new jobs and meant help could be given to more than 200,000 users of those organisations.”

Victoria Prentis added: “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. That is why the work of groups like WRAP and the Felix Project are so important. With a 16 per cent 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.

“Our Food Waste Prevention Programme has provided 300 grants totalling almost £12 million since 2018. Food is a personal and political priority for me, and I am delighted to be able to support WRAP and the Felix Project today.”