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Food Waste Increased At British Supermarket Chain Tesco

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Food waste is a big problem. A third of the world’s food is wasted each year, amounting to 1.3 billion tons annually at a cost of $940 billion. An estimated 800,000 tons of fresh vegetables and salads are wasted every year in the U.K. That's why it's a bit unsettling to learn that food waste at the British grocery store chain Tesco increased by over 2,000 tons from 2014/2015 to 2015/2016, according to the company’s own data. Tesco blames the 4 percent increase in food waste -- which rose from 57,100 tons to 59,400 tons -- on its bakery and alcohol divisions.

Tesco has published data on the food waste in its operations since 2013. And it is the only British retailer to do so. The release of the data came as its CEO Dave Lewis gave the keynote speech at the Global Summit of the Consumer Goods Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. Lewis encouraged businesses to do more to reduce food waste, including publishing their food waste data. “Tackling food waste makes sense for business, it will help people and our planet, and it’s also the right thing to do,” Lewis said in South Africa.

“When I arrived at Tesco we were the only U.K. retail company to publish our food waste data,” Lewis said. “What the data shows is that it’s clear where we need to focus our efforts ... Nearly three years after we announced it, we are still the only U.K. retailer publishing our data.”

By reducing its food waste, Tesco will save money. A report by the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) found that taking action to prevent food waste could save businesses over $426 million a year. WRAP estimates that 1.9 million tons of food is wasted in the U.K. grocery supply chain annually.

Tesco has a number of partnerships and initiatives to reduce food waste. Back in March, the supermarket chain became one of the signatories of the Courtauld 2025 Commitment. Signatories of the Commitment agree to reduce food and drink waste in the U.K. by 20 percent by 2025. In January, Tesco announced that Lewis will chair Champions 12.3, a coalition of leaders from various sectors whose goal is to help achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to cut global food waste in half by 2030.

Lewis mentioned Tesco’s struggles to reduce food waste in a blog post. “What that data shows clearly is where we need to focus our efforts – so it’s really important that other retailers share their data in this way too,” he wrote. He cited several initiatives at Tesco to reduce food waste. One of them is a commitment to ensure all surplus food at the company’s U.K. stores is offered to charity organizations by the end of 2017. Tesco is participating with FareShare and FoodCloud to make that happen.

He also mentioned Tesco’s new produce line, Perfectly Imperfect, which sells fruits and vegetables that might look funny but are completely nutritious. The Perfectly Imperfect line includes parsnips, potatoes, strawberries, apples and cucumbers. The sales volumes of the range are now 10 times what they were when the line launched in March. Tesco expects that the line will expand to include up to 10 different types of fruit and vegetables.

“We want to do everything we can to cut food waste, and we’ll continue to do more to help our suppliers and customers reduce the amount of food that is wasted from farm to fork,” Matt Simister, commercial director for fresh food and commodities at Tesco, said in a statement issued when the company added cucumbers to the line.

Produce that doesn’t look necessarily pleasing to the eye is all too often thrown away by grocery store chains. An initiative called Imperfect Produce aims to change that and started by providing a produce delivery subscription in the Bay Area of California. The produce, which is odd looking, is discounted by 30 to 50 percent. Whole Foods announced in March that it will team up with Imperfect Produce to sell misshapen fruit.

Image credit: Flickr/Nick Saltmarsh

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman