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It’s becoming increasingly clear that food waste is one of the big sustainability challenges that the UK is facing today. Every year, British homes produce 6.6 million tonnes of food waste, 4.5 million tonnes of which is food that could have been eaten. This not only has an economic cost – £14 billion to be precise – but it also has an impact on the environment, which is often overlooked by consumers.
Passionate food and drink producers and shop owners also recognise the toll of food waste on the fine food sector. “I can’t imagine how it would feel for a producer of food or a retailer of fine food to hear those numbers,” Helen White, a food waste expert at WRAP, told Speciality Food. “It must go to their hearts, because this is their business, their livelihood, and to know that this is the destiny for some of those wonderful products is heartbreaking.”
But it’s not only households that have a role to play with reducing food waste. Independent retailers can take action themselves and inspire their customers to change their ways. “Luckily, where the retailers are really well placed, and the actual actions that you can take, are very, very simple,” she said.
During the UK’s first ever Food Waste Action Week, we look into how fine food retailers can get involved with the food waste fight.
1. Target, measure, act
WRAP has produced guidance around food waste for larger food businesses, but Helen says the principles apply to retailers of any size.
The first step? “Turn your senses on and become aware of where waste is occurring within your operation,” Helen says. “Most businesses will know this because waste is a cost. You’ll know where the problem areas are. So it’s looking at those, and then acting.
“We have a phrase, ‘target, measure, act’,” Helen continues. Once you’ve identified where your shop’s problem areas are with food waste, set a target for reducing this. “That’s always a really great thing, because then you aim for something very tangible that you can measure. You then need to be able to re-measure so that you can compare to see how you’re getting on against that target.”
2. Take it a step further
Being aware, setting targets and measuring so you can see when you’re making progress are the first key steps, but it doesn’t end there for retailers. Helen recommends working with other businesses, such as your suppliers to tackle food waste elsewhere in the supply chain.
Business owners can also look into whether there are other mechanisms which they can use to redistribute surplus food. Training staff is another important way to tackle the root of the cause of food waste.
3. Educate customers
Engaging with and educating customers is an area where Helen says small, independent retailers are very well placed to tackle the food waste problem.
“There are real opportunities to link good food management behaviours in the home with the products that people purchase,” Helen says. “Things like telling people how best to store it at home to keep it fresher for longer and in its optimum condition. That’s the type of advice that independent food retailers have a brilliant opportunity to get across in a very personal way.”
Helping customers change their own food waste habits with recipe options, storage tips and information around labelling is a simple way for indies to spread the word about food waste. “There are some great opportunities for creative communications,” Helen says.
4. Take the sustainability angle
With many ethically minded customers actively looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, cutting food waste offers a simple solution. Helen explains: “The problem for climate change is the fact that there are greenhouse gas emissions associated with every stage of food production.” From the water and land used to grow the food to the packaging to the transportation to warehouses, shops and then homes, every stage of the journey has a greenhouse gas cost. “If that food then ends up being wasted, all the resources that have gone into producing it get wasted as well.”
Retailers can help customers make the link between food waste and climate change. “There’s really an opportunity to get across some of the things that mean that every mouthful of that good food is eaten, and it doesn’t end up going to waste, because it’s not good for anyone – pocket or planet,” Helen says. This could prove to be an important message for conscious consumers to hear, and by taking these messages forward, retailers have an opportunity to not only help reduce food waste but to build relationships with their customers.