As climate change continues to have far-reaching effects on various industries, the fresh produce sector is not immune to its impacts. Among the countries renowned for their agricultural prowess, Spain stands out as a major player in the production and export of watermelon and melons.
Food waste facts and how to reduce it
Food waste is problem that we cannot ignore. Financially, environmentally and socially it is an issue that demands attention. The fruit and veg sector have a key role to play, and businesses must improve their strategy. Currently, one-third of all food is wasted before even making it to the consumer.
Here, we explain why food waste happens and what this means for sustainability. The first part of this report tackles the main causes and effects. The second part looks at the industry specifics with clear guidelines to how to reduce food waste and costs associated with it.
In this blog post we will examine:
Food Waste and Food Insecurity: The Causes
Food waste is a process where food that can be eaten by humans gets discarded. It is often because the food has spoilt, but is also caused by supply chain issues, weather, changing market conditions and other factors. According to leading experts, waste is driven by three key factors: Technological, Institutional and Social drivers.
Technological, Institutional and Social Drivers
Limitations and faults in food production technology causing edible food to go to waste.
Examples might include mistakes in the use of food processing and packaging technology. Also, a lack of technology to measure order volumes, logistics and quality control.
Institutional Drivers (business management and legislation)
Structural and logistical issues with the food industry.
From a business perspective – hurdles arise from poor logistics and operations. The result is an increase in food waste.
Interestingly, countries different stages of development cause food waste in different parts of the supply chain.
Research found that “food is wasted in the earlier stages of the supply chain in the case of developing countries, and in the later stages of the supply chain, in the case of developed countries.”
Legislation is the other core institutional factor. For example, if a supermarket makes a variety change for a certain fruit, growers with the old variety can no longer use this same stock.
If legislation on pesticides and herbicides changes, there is a similar story.
Contamination of goods, such as human stowaways can also lead to waste. Other issues like incorrect documentation, or transport logistics problems also factor. For example, lorry drivers cannot enter a country until their documents are approved and this often causes delays.
These factors are the mindsets and cultures that lead to good, edible food going to waste.
In developed countries, the standards for what people will and will not accept can be unreasonably high. For example, consumers often avoid buying food that is close to its sell-by date. This means it does not get sold, despite being perfectly edible. When it’s not sold and cannot make it to a food bank, it goes to waste. Other consumers may not want to buy misshaped or partially damaged fresh produce and this causes similar waste.
Such high standards influence the business habits of retailers and subsequently, all the players in the supply chain. The outcome is that edible food goes to waste because of the well-informed belief that consumers will not be satisfied.
Further, as found in our consumer demands blog post, western demands for exotics lead to large imports from other continents. Food that must travel great distances is more likely to perish from logistical issues.
Siloed supply chain
This is a good example of an Institutional Driver. When we talk about the food supply chain and the fresh produce supply chain, we encounter a disconnected system. Anyone operating in it will know that the sector is still waiting for digitisation. QC reports are mostly manual, order mistakes – slow to be rectified, and networks – limited to traditional and restricted avenues.
Picture this common scenario:
One hundred kilos of ripe peaches can no longer sell due to a new legislation. It is often hard and impractical to donate this produce because buyers are not well-connected with NGOs, food banks or charities. The result? Food gets wasted in an energy intensive process, leaving a heavy carbon footprint and extra costs for the business.
Quantifying food waste and keeping track
This is an example of both a Technological and Institutional Driver. Most businesses lack the motivation to reduce waste for two reasons:
· They don’t believe it’s an obvious money saver
· They are unclear on how much food they are wasting because they don’t have clear measuring procedures
Measuring food waste is vital. Simply because, the costs impact your overall profit margins. Therefore, reducing waste is key to boosting profits.
We will take a closer look at how to measure food waste in a moment and how it can save your business money.
Poor logistics and operations
Another Institutional Driver. Uncertain delivery dates, order mistakes and poor communication. This is what the industry looks like on a bad day.
With these very real issues, food waste is not going anywhere. If there is any hope of improving the situation, an efficient system is essential.
Factors to consider:
- A clear communications platform
- Accountability for orders
- Systems that ensure efficient operations
This is an example of a Social Driver. Cultural norms and social influences affect how consumers buy their goods.
When products are packaged in ‘ugly’ ways rather than aesthetically pleasing ways, they may not sell as well. Some stock goes out of fashion and retailers are left with undesirable goods that people no longer want.
For example, vegetarian meat replacements have risen in popularity. This can be linked to an increase in sustainable consumer behaviours. When a change like this occurs over a short time, it is hard to predict and often causes food to go waste.
Food Waste and the Environment
Food waste and climate change are inherently interlinked. From every angle we look at it, it is something that we must target and treat as a priority issue.
When food goes to waste, all the resources that went into making it are also wasted, since the product was never consumed. Consider, it takes almost 10,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of nuts. If a kilo of nuts goes to waste then, so does the 10,000 litres of water. It is painfully obvious that industry and consumer waste must drop.
Processing food waste
To add insult to injury, food waste requires processing through energy-intensive methods. These create staggering greenhouse gas emissions (6-8% of the world’s total). If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
As if this wasn’t enough, millions of people are still in poverty, both in developed and developing countries. In the UK alone, there was a rise from 4.7 million (January 2022) to 7.3 million people (April 2022) who went without food or were unable to get food within that month. Two million of these people were children.
Sustainability and Development Goals & B-Corp
Failing to improve our efficiency with food waste is a failure to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3. This aims to half industry food waste by 2030. As environmental ethics integrate with business, more companies are aiming to reduce their waste. Some are trying to get B-Corp certificates and others want to work on being a greener company. Regardless, the time to act on food waste is now.
Understanding Food Waste Facts in the Industry
When it comes to the industry specifics, we know that over 170,000 tonnes of food go to waste in the fresh produce supply chain every year. For those interested in the future of food waste and understanding how experts intend to navigate this, have a look at the roadmap provided by WRAP.
Firstly, approaches must involve clear methods to track progress and part of this is accurate waste measurement. Consistent measurement and clear criteria are essential to keep track of current levels. From this, companies can set goals for reduction.
Measuring food waste
Businesses must consider what counts as food waste. For example, below are things that do not count as food waste:
· Food that is repurposed for animal feed
· Harvest affected by weather
· Pest and disease damage
· Inedible parts of the food
For a comprehensive list of what counts as food waste and what does not, see this useful report.
Food waste value calculator
If you want to measure the value of the food waste created by your business, use this food waste calculator. Once businesses start measuring their food waste, it becomes clear how much money is being wasted.
How to Reduce Food Waste
Good food waste management is essential for businesses to streamline their operations and focus on steady profits. Below, we look at the factors making food waste management difficult. After this, we provide some clear solutions that are specific to the fruit and veg industry.
It is not just out of good will and optimism that businesses are expected to cut their food waste. There are actually clear financial incentives to do so.
But how does a business reduce its food waste footprint?
Remove sell-by dates
Leading retailers have made great efforts, with Aldi pledging to remove the ‘sell-by’ dates from a range of their fresh produce. Their aim is to drastically reduce waste and provide affordable fruit and vegetables during a difficult time.
Liz Fox, corporate responsibility director at Aldi UK, said: “One of the reasons we are the UK’s cheapest supermarket is because we cut down on waste wherever we see it.”
In addition to removing sell-by dates from some products, Aldi are also partnered with a donation group Neighbourly and the surplus food app – Too Good To Go. This way, people can collect cheaper food that is closer to going off and Aldi can donate anything else to those who need it most.
Form a team focusing on food waste
Forming a team whose sole, or partial purpose is to reduce food waste can be a great starting point.
In a small company this team may be part of general operations, with a partial focus on food waste and sustainability. In a larger company, a food waste teams might specialise in food waste practices and sustainability as a main aim.
Either way, some things worth clarifying for commercial food waste are definitions of ‘sell-by’, ‘use-by’ and ‘best-by’. These will influence how a company disposes of food. As mentioned above, some retailers are removing such terms from their packaging in a bid to reduce their waste.
Partner with charities, food banks and NGOs
Good business relations with these groups are essential for an impact-based approach to food waste. Impact-based business aims to improve social/environmental conditions for people. This may include targeting hunger or greenhouse gas emissions. The fresh produce sector cannot meet these targets without charities, food banks and NGOs.
Some key players in the UK include:
How FruPro Helps with Food Waste?
At FruPro, we have built a platform that makes donation and redistribution simple.
Connect and Redistribute
With our active network of fresh produce businesses and close relations with NGOs and food banks – connecting and redistributing is simple. If produce is likely to spoil, our users can simply click the donate option and everything else is taken care of. This way businesses do not need to pay for waste disposal and the perishable food goes to hungry mouths that need it most.
Understanding Consumer Demands
When consumer demands pivot, or leave businesses with excess stock, this hits the profit margins. Being connected with our active network of businesses allows for wider fresh produce insights. FruPro users can scroll through our platform to see what is popular, how prices might be fluctuating, and which clients are offering the best deals.
On top of this, we provide quarterly guidance on how consumer demands and consumer confidence are expected to change in the coming months. As packaging trends and consumer preferences change, it is important to stay ahead. Otherwise, companies are left with perfectly edible food that does not tick the consumer needs and sadly ends up going to waste. We provide advice on how to navigate these trends and ultimately, help you to profit from varying consumer demands.
Our users can rest assured, since the information we provide is backed by scientific research and aligns with industry thought leaders.
Digitally connected supply chain
FruPro is the simple platform for all your fresh produce needs. Thanks to our digitally connected supply chain, our users have said goodbye to:
- Order issues – by keeping track of all the details in one place
- Wasted stock and excess food waste costs – by donating with one click
- Slow or poor communications – thanks to our instant chat. Users can connect with companies, individuals or groups effortlessly
With these structures in place, food waste inevitably becomes a thing of the past. Redistributing is easier than ever because donating takes one click.
As a business, FruPro has worked tirelessly to fight food waste through innovative methods. Thanks to our impact, we have re-distributed and donated 30,000 tonnes of food, equivalent to almost 100,000. We will continue improving our services to get more businesses into the habit of donating and redistributing.
Changing mindsets and practices is utterly essential to target food insecurity, poverty and climate change. Click here to see what FruPro are doing to help & keep an eye on our blog posts for more tips on profit-saving sustainable practices.
If you are ready to talk, fill out the form below and let us help your business.