Supermarket giant Tesco has published its annual food waste figures, revealing that it wasted 17% less food by weight during 2018-19 than during the previous 12-month period.
This proportion is equivalent to 44,297 tonnes of food, or 0.45% of Tesco’s annual sales.
Tesco has achieved this sizeable year-on-year reduction primarily through redistributing surplus food to charities, community groups, employees and firms which process it into animal feed. During 2018-19, the retailer redistributed 63% more food through these channels than it did throughout 2017-18, the data reveals.
Tesco is now donating to almost 7,000 charities and community groups through its partnership with redistribution platform FareShare – an arrangement which has been in place since 2015, having provided more than 60 million meals to those in need to date. Throughout 2018, an average of 30,000 meals was redistributed through the Tesco-FareShare partnership every week.
The 2018-19 period also saw the supermarket open its first string of “Colleague Shops”, which offer staff the chance to purchase food on its use-by or best-before date at a discounted price of 1p per item. In time, it is hoping to make this service, which it operates through back-of-store colleague rooms, free to use.
Aside from redistribution, Tesco credits closer partnerships with key suppliers as another key contributor to its food waste reduction. Its commitment to take whole crops from growers – including “wonky” produce and unexpected “bumper crops – has enabled it to include more items in its ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ and ‘Waste Not’ ranges. The former covers fruits and vegetables which previously did not meet the supermarket’s cosmetic standards, while the latter is a range of juice drinks made using “wonky” items.
Tesco’s chief executive Dave Lewis said that publicly reporting food waste data is “crucial” to driving progress against the company’s overarching aim of halving its food waste by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Reducing food waste is a global challenge: one in nine people are going hungry whilst a third of the world’s food is wasted,” Lewis said.
“This food waste has a huge environmental impact, creating unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. We therefore set a challenging target that no food safe for human consumption would go to waste in our UK operations and we are now 81% of the way there.”
Food for thought
Tackling food waste has formed a key part of Tesco’s sustainability strategy since 2009, when it made a commitment to stop sending food products to landfill.
In 2013, it became the first UK supermarket to publicly publish its food waste data, and is using the publication of this year’s figures to encourage other businesses to follow suit.
The publication of the data comes in the same week that Tesco joined a new government-led commitment aimed at uniting food and drink businesses, policymakers and members of the public in aligning with SDG 12.3.
Convened by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and called the ‘Step up to the Plate’ pledge, the scheme commits corporate signatories to adopt WRAP’s food waste reduction roadmap. Published last September and supported by more than 90 organisations across the food value chain, the framework, built in partnership with charity IGD, sets out how organisations can measure and act on wastage levels across a “farm-to-fork” approach.
Defra’s new pledge additionally requires signatories to take part in the Department’s first Food Conversation Week of Action in November, which will serve to highlight the changes all actors can make to reduce the 10.2 million tonnes of food wasted across the UK annually. Other early supporters of the commitment include Waitrose & Partners, Sainsbury’s and Nestle.