Grocery Retail

The UK grocery market is dominated by large retailers and produces 300,000 tonnes of food waste per year; 200,000 tonnes of which is believed to be avoidable.10

Cultural issues surrounding 'imperfect' foods, over-ordering, damaged stock, fridge and freezer breakdowns and products going out of date can all lead to food waste. Retailers have also come under scrutiny for placing excessive demands on suppliers and marketing multi-buy deals.

The potential saving to retailers of addressing surplus and avoidable food waste is more than £360m, and the equivalent of 800,000 tonnes of GHG.11

  • Barriers in retail

    Consumer demand, product choice, competitive price-driven marketing, short-termism in planning and forecasting food supplies can all contribute to driving up food waste. However, the following areas pose particular challenges:

    1. Consumer behaviour

      Consumers are often blamed for demanding ‘perfect’ fruit and vegetables. For some, changing consumer and staff behaviours can be seen as a risk in light of the intense competition between retailers, making this a potential barrier to the implementation of new waste strategies.

    2. The limitations of smaller shops

      Smaller convenience format retailers face particular challenges when it comes to dealing with food waste. For example, back-haul systems, which coordinate deliveries and waste collection, are not always suitable for smaller retailers due to the risk associated with mixing fresh produce with waste produce. There is also less space to store waste and sending surplus food to charity can be challenging. For smaller units, separate food waste collections may be considered expensive in comparison to general waste.

  • Is anything changing?

    In May 2013, Tesco launched a campaign against food waste and reduced packaging. Food promotions which encouraged consumers to buy large amounts of food with a short shelf life were replaced and Clubcards were used to educate customers about food waste.

    In 2009, Asda scrapped buy one, get one free promotions of core products, and in June 2013 announced that it was to start sending surplus chilled foods and ingredients to food banks in agreement with FareShare.

    As a result of the Courtauld Commitment, 80% of waste produced by signatories is now recovered or recycled.12 Phase three could realise up to £1.6bn of savings, a reduction of 1.1m tonnes of waste, GHG reductions of 2.9m tonnes and a 20% decrease in household food waste.13

    Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda have refined the use of their delivery fleet to back-haul recyclable materials to central depots. From here, food surplus and food waste can be separated and sent for re-use, recovery or recycling.

    All supermarket groups now recycle their ABP material in line with legislation, so that it is either rendered or processed through technology solutions such as AD or energy from waste (EfW).

  • Grocery Retail recommendations
    • Defra to broker an industry-wide commitment between farmers, retailers and Government to avoid food waste caused by aesthetic requirements.
    • The development of a marketing charter that ensures food waste is dealt with through marketing strategies, such as discounting excess stock near its expiry date, rather than 'buy one, get one free' offers.
    • Greater investment in food waste education programmes such as 'Love Food Hate Waste'. Currently £1 spent by the campaign saves £150 worth of food from landfill.
    • The extension and increase in food waste education programmes, such as 'Love Food Hate Waste', with a significant increase in the level of investment from £2m to multiples of this amount through additional private sector support.
    • Businesses to include food waste and consideration of the food waste hierarchy in all waste contract specifications.
    • Guidance to be offered by retailers on storage and freezing, ensuring that date marks and instructions on food packaging are clear and consistent.
    • Government to introduce a phased ban on food waste to landfill from 2017 for business, based on turnover and/or volume of waste generated (e.g. above 50kg of food waste per week), to give companies time to look for and adopt alternative disposal options.
View the Case Study

10 Waste arising in the supply of food and drink to households in the UK, WRAP 2010

11 Waste arising in the supply of food and drink to households in the UK, WRAP 2010

12 WRAP 2013: Courtauld Commitment

13 WRAP 2013: Launch of Courtauld Commitment 3