Is a Food Waste Free Future a Possibility?

Author: Peter West
3rd May 2017

Food waste has long been a major global concern, and there have been a number of initiatives aimed at tackling the problem. During the last few years there has been a big focus on reducing food waste at the consumer end of the chain – shopping smartly, saving leftovers, and donating to charities, for example – but this only addresses a small part of the overall food waste problem. More needs to be done.

With the UK supermarket giant Tesco reporting that 24 percent of their grapes, 40 percent of their apples, and a whopping 70 percent of their bagged salads have to be disposed of, it’s important to consider ways to minimise waste in the manufacturer and retail parts of the chain, as well as at the consumer end. In order to really see results, there needs to be full participation throughout the chain, at all stages.

The European Commission have announced a plan to halve food waste by 2030. If slashing waste by 50 percent is indeed a possibility, then could we go even further? Could a completely food waste future also be a realistic goal? Perhaps; but for this to happen there need to be some changes implemented across the supply chain. Ultimately, there are four distinct aspects to creating a food waste free future:

1. Identifying Problem Areas

It is essential to understand at which point of the chain spoilage is most likely to occur. Measuring this data allows for issues to be identified and subsequently managed, yet this is an area that has not yet reached its full potential. This sort of data has a number of benefits; driving insights, helping to pinpoint the operational changes required at all stages to maximise shelf life, and enabling proper forecasting and planning by knowing how and when spoilage is taking place. Technology, such as smart packaging and active packaging, is helping to make this easier. It is important for temperature and freshness monitors, shock detectors, and radio frequency identification (RFID) chips to become more readily available.

2. Making Logistics More Efficient

“Most food waste comes from consumers, but the amount lost in the logistics systems comes in a close second” says Swedish researcher Kristina Liljestrand. Poor supply chain solutions are instrumental in creating unnecessary spoilage, highlighting the need for more effective and efficient transportation. Unfortunately, although the use of temperature sensitive vehicles for items like bulk liquids and concentrated juice is becoming more and more commonplace, these vans are unable to do their jobs properly unless we also address packaging concerns. For temperature-controlled logistics to be effective, packaging must be optimised for air-flow. Packaging and logistics go hand-in-hand, and it’s important to focus on both to see good results.

3. Prioritising Waste Reduction

Despite initiatives, it appears that reducing food waste is still not a priority at some parts of the supply chain. It is reported, for example, that the ‘cut to cool’ time is often overlooked, which suggests that there is significant room for improvement in post-harvest processes. The good news, however, is that there have been some changes in recent years which indicate that the importance of minimising food waste is starting to become more widely understood. In 2014, Tesco hit the headlines for cutting out the use of packhouses, and ensuring crops were transported directly from farms to their distribution centres. Tesco have announced their goal of becoming a food waste free business by the end of 2017.

4. Planning for Emergencies

Even allowing for best practices at all times, there will always be produce that is not quite at an acceptable level in terms of overall quality. In these cases, it’s important to look at what can be done during the later stages to ensure that this food is, if possible, put to good use. Many retailers already employ a number of emergency tactics for older produce, such as increasing pack sizes or lowering the cost of existing packs to encourage purchases. However, an interesting emerging trend in the UK is to delve into new markets, and take note of companies that are willing to use, or help others to use, produce that would otherwise be wasted. The OLIO app is one such system that’s making this happen.

The Need for Collaboration

All of the above need to occur together if we have any chance of seeing a food waste free future, as a lack of participation at any stage of the chain will increase the risk of unused produce. This means that it is impossible for a single organisation alone to make a substantial difference, and there is a need for farmers, logistics, retailers, and consumers to all put their trust into one another. If each and every stage of the chain can keep up their end of the bargain, then there really is no reason why a food waste free future couldn’t be a reality.

For more information, please contact the team at Maia Global on to see what we can do to help your business.