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Tesco to donate more unsold food to charities

Tesco is to donate thousands of tonnes of unsold food to charity in response to pressure on supermarkets to reduce waste.

Britain’s biggest chain last year threw out 55,400 tonnes of food, about 30,000 tonnes of which was edible. Some food left over at its warehouses is already distributed to charities, but the company sends most of it for animal feed or to be loaded into anaerobic digestion energy plants.

Half of all bakery products and 40& of apples, as well as takeaway items such as sandwiches make up most of the food that goes unsold.

It has now developed an app with UK food redistribution charity Fare Share and another with Irish social enterprise Food Cloud. Store managers will use the app to inform charities such as homeless hostels about surplus food held at the end of each day.

The scheme has already been tested at more than 100 stores in Ireland and will go into an initial 10 stores in the UK including outlets in Glasgow, Belfast, London and Merseyside.

“This is potentially the biggest single step we’ve taken to cut food waste, and we hope it marks the start of eliminating the need to throw away edible food in our stores,” said Dave Lewis, chief executive of Tesco.

The UK launch of Tesco’s scheme, comes as MPs prepare to discuss the possibility of introducing legislation to tackle food waste.

Earlier this week, Labour MP Diane Abbott tabled an early day motion calling on the government to introduce legislation which would ban supermarkets from throwing away food that is approaching its best-before date and instead make it available to charities.

The idea was prompted by the introduction of similar legislation in France, which now bans large supermarkets from throwing away food in favour of handing it to charities or for animal feed.

Lewis said Tesco did not need new laws to make it act on food waste. “You need legislation when you don’t have a solution and if we can make it work so we’re not wasting food from stores then that’s it,” he said.

All the major UK supermarket chains already work with charities to hand over unwanted edible food from within their supply chain, but only Sainsbury’s currently has a nationwide scheme to distribute food left over in stores to charities. About 300 of its 1,200 stores are involved. Marks & Spencer is piloting a scheme in which stores hand over food to Community Shop, a project which sells goods at a discounted rate to its members who are all in financial need.

Just over 1% of food wasted in the UK comes from stores but that still amounts to about 200,000 tonnes according to figures released by the government-backed Waste Resources Action Programme (Wrap) published earlier this year.

In February, Daily Business launched Waste Not Want Not, a campaign to reduce food being thrown away by supermarkets.

The campaign highlighted consumer concern but also evidence that shareholders would increase their returns if there was less waste.

The supermarkets insist they are already reducing waste significantly and claim that contrary to popular belief, the figures show that very little food waste comes from supermarkets and their depots.

However, the Waste and Resource Action Programme, a not-for-profit organisation looking at UK resource efficiency, says seven million tonnes of food waste – more than 50% of which could have been eaten – is thrown away and one big City institution says the retailers remain the key to reducing this mountain.

The figure is equivalent to six meals per week for the average UK household. Furthermore, WRAP says, reducing this waste would dramatically decrease CO2 emissions – equivalent to taking one car in five off the road.

While all this food goes into skips and landfill sites, charities are providing food parcels to 500,000 UK families every year and food banks are springing up across the country.

Although the case for reducing food waste depends to some extent on the consumer, Legal & General Investment Management believes food retailers are the key link in the chain and that there is much that the retailers need to acknowledge:

First: Bombarding shoppers with special offers for food that they do not want is no longer a sustainable strategy.

Second: Shopping habits are changing, with consumers making more visits to convenience stores rather than doing a single large weekly shop.

Third: Investors are beginning to note the benefits to them in responsible and ethical behaviour. L&G believes that companies with good corporate governance and sustainable business policies will usually generate superior financial returns for their shareholders.

As an active investor in food retailers and food producers listed in the FTSE, LGIM says it wants to ensure that “these companies are addressing the risks associated with food waste which can have an adverse impact on their business model”.

The British Retail Consortium says supermarkets are working with farmers and producer groups to tackle food waste and losses in agriculture as well as reviewing current specifications for produce, smarter ways to forecast and opportunities to improve storage and transportation. In addition, its members proactively discount products as they reach the end of their shelf life and working with organisations such as FareShare, FoodCycle and Community Shop to redistribute more unsold surplus food to those who need it.

Andrew Opie, BRC director of food and sustainability, said: “Our members are pleased to introduce new levels of transparency into the supply chain and the figures tell a positive story about the vast efforts grocery retailers have made to reduce their food waste.”



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