The issue of sustainability has never been more central to the food and beverage industry. Not only does it make good business sense in terms of lowering costs through efficiencies and streamlining supply chains, but also consumers across the world are increasingly demanding environmentally friendly products and placing greater importance on corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Reducing plastic packaging; a focus on health eating, with repercussions for the meat and dairy industries as more shoppers turn to vegan and plant-based alternatives; responsibly sourcing food; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and tackling food waste are just some of the issues facing the sector.
Food and drink businesses have been busy coming up with initiatives to meet these challenges head on, including the launch in the US by Mars, Nestlé, Unilever and Danone of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance in July this year.
The partnership is founded on the principle that food companies “can and should be doing more to lead and drive positive policy action for the people who buy and enjoy the foods and beverages we make, the people who supply them, and the planet on which we all rely”1.
It is recognised that the industry has an integral part to play if the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations in 2015 are to have a real impact globally.
Second on the UN list of targets is ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. Other goals where food has a role to play include conserving and sustainably using the oceans, ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, and ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all ages.
What sustainability issue is dominating the industry?
The issue of food waste has caused the biggest stink over the past two years. Indeed, UN sustainable development goal 12.3 calls for the cutting in half per capita of global food waste at the retail and consumer level.
Food waste expert WRAP first revealed the scale of the food waste mountain back in 2016, with its report outlining that 1.9 million tonnes were being wasted every year by the UK food and drink industry – 89% of it before it ever reached retail and more than half of this being avoidable. It equated to £1.9 billion in lost sales for the industry. The report also highlighted 525 million edible meals, which could have been redistributed to those in need, going to waste2.
The Courtauld Commitment 2025 was launched the same year, with the aim to reduce UK food and drinks industry waste by 20% over 10 years, which WRAP hopes will lead to savings of about £20 billion.
The major supermarkets and discounters have responded with a host of initiatives, including selling ‘wonky’ veg, ditching best before dates on ‘robust’ fruit and veg and working with redistribution charities such as FareShare, as well as being more transparent in publishing food waste figures.
Manufacturers have also played their part, reformulating recipes to make use of veg that in the past would have gone to landfill, using stale bread to produce beer and turning unwanted fruit into crisps.
To stay competitive, food and beverage companies must revisit their sustainability strategies and cut down their food waste.
Case study: Company Shop
Company Shop is at the forefront of the war on waste, working with both retailers and suppliers to battle the problem.
Founded by John Marren more than 40 years ago, the UK’s largest redistributor of surplus products will save circa 60 million grocery items this year from disposal, and sell them through its staff shops on manufacturing sites, standalone stores and click-and-collect services, as well as through its social enterprise Community Shop.
Company Shop has long standing relationships with manufacturers and retailers that unlock the value from surplus food and wider FMCG products.
Managing Director, Jane Marren said “Company Shop supports a sustainable grocery industry by providing a commercial return for surplus that would otherwise become a cost for disposal. Our scale and efficacy in re-distribution has returned about £128 million to our partners in the last decade. We also ensure that all brands are fully protected through our unique closed loop membership model and by handling all products to the same high standards adopted by the F&B supply chain.
“For us, it is about changing mindset: if you label wholesome edible food as waste, then you will treat it as waste. If you call it surplus, then you can unlock its true value and realise a commercial and a social return too.”
To this end, the business launched its social enterprise model, Community Shop, in 2013. As an alternative to receiving a commercial return, retailers and manufacturers can donate some or all of their surplus food and products to Community Shop, which is then sold at discounted prices to members in deprived communities. Revenues raised from the enterprise are used to deliver professional, personal development programmes to kick-start positive change in the lives of their members.
In December last year, Company Shop entered a partnership with Nestlé UK that is estimated to lead to the redistribution of the equivalent of two million extra meals for commercial and charitable purposes by examining ways to make use of part-processed products.
Company Shop also works closely with trade bodies such as the Food and Drink Federation, the British Frozen Food Federation and the British Retail Consortium to share its expertise on waste prevention and surplus re-distribution.
As a result of the work being done across the whole industry, food waste redistribution from retailers, manufacturers and foodservice companies has soared by 50% in the past two years, according to new figures from WRAP released in July3.
The industry has increased the amount of food surplus sent to charities and commercial redistribution organisations from 28,555 tonnes in 2015 to 43,034 tonnes in 2017 – with charitable donations up 80% from 11,655 tonnes to 20,935 tonnes.
However, WRAP pointed out that there is still a long way to go in the fight against waste, estimating at least more than 200,000 tonnes of food waste could be redistributed per year, almost 10 times the current figure.
Jane added: “Inevitably, surplus does occur and we offer the most sustainable solution for its redistribution; one that benefits businesses, the environment, individuals and communities. By unlocking the full potential of surplus, we can grow our business and increase our positive impact.”
For more information about sustainability and food waste within the sector, please contact Trefor Griffith.