From headlines about wonky veg boxes, to new laws making it mandatory for French and Italian supermarkets to donate their surplus food to charities, the issue of food waste has never been higher on the public agenda.
Globally, a third of the food that is produced never reaches our plates. Some of that waste occurs in our homes but here in the UK, waste prevention charity WRAP estimates that a whopping 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted each year in the manufacturing and retail sectors, and a further 0.9 million tonnes is wasted annually in the hospitality and foodservice sector.
There are several organisations that offer hospitality businesses advice on how to reduce food waste, including WRAP and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, who can give guidance on everything from reviewing how ingredients are ordered and stored, to altering portion sizes and offering take-home doggy bags or boxes – changes that can save money and benefit the environment to boot. Apps like Too Good To Waste are also making it possible for restaurants to sell leftovers to consumers at reduced prices.
Surplus in the supply chain
Yet no matter how efficient they are, it is inevitable that food manufacturers, processors and other suppliers to the hospitality industry will find themselves with large volumes of surplus produce at some point – food that can’t be sold for a whole host of reasons such as being ‘out of spec’ (think wonky fruit and veg), mislabelled or in damaged packaging. Late changes to customer orders, unseasonable weather and over-production to meet fluctuating demand can also leave suppliers with a glut of good produce.
While frequently termed ‘food waste’, in many cases this produce is in-date and perfectly good to eat, nutritious, even delicious, and can have several days or even weeks of life left. There is huge potential to put this food to good use by redistributing it to people in need – turning an environmental problem into a social solution.
For more than 20 years, the food redistribution charity FareShare has been working in partnership with food businesses to help them do just that. Last year, it redistributed a record 9,070 tonnes of food that might otherwise have gone to waste, helping nearly 2,500 frontline charities and community groups including homeless shelters, children’s breakfast clubs, older people’s lunch clubs and women’s refuges, to serve up 18.3 million nutritious meals alongside life-changing support.
Fighting food waste, tackling hunger
This is fantastic progress, yet represents just the tip of the food and drink industry’s food waste iceberg. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible food still gets thrown away, or used to generate energy or animal feed, every year. At the same time, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation says that 8.4 million people in the UK, equivalent to the entire population of London, are struggling to put a meal on the table. And every one of FareShare’s 20 regional centres has a waiting list of local charities that need food.
Meat, poultry, dairy, fresh produce and long-life ‘store cupboard’ staples like pasta, rice and tinned goods are all in demand, but with the new school term starting in September, FareShare is particularly keen to hear from suppliers that have surplus fresh fruit, who could help to give children a healthy start to their day. Research shows that children who eat a healthy breakfast before the school day starts benefit from better concentration and are twice as likely to perform well in tests. Yet with some families struggling on low incomes, or working long hours, not every child is able to eat a nutritious breakfast at home, and breakfast clubs help to fill this gap.
During the last school year, the number of children’s breakfast clubs supported by FareShare grew by 14%, to 324 clubs, with fruit particularly in demand because it is healthy and easy to serve. That demand is expected to grow as more schools join the Sugar Smart programme and swap high-sugar fruit juices for more natural alternatives.
It’s taste, not shape that counts
FareShare already works in partnership with several fresh produce suppliers including AMT Fruit, IPL, Mack, Rodanto and Worldwide Fruit, but is keen to partner with more suppliers to redistribute fruit that may be “slightly less than perfect” but is still good to eat. Easy to prepare fruit such as bananas, satsumas, grapes and melons are particularly welcomed by breakfast clubs, where they will be used to give children a healthy start to the day - and a good start in life.
Want to learn more? Waste-Works is the only waste & sustainability event for the food & drink industry and takes place alongside IFE. Find out more here.
Food businesses that have surplus fruit, veg, meat, dairy or other produce, on an occasional or regular basis, should visit www.fareshare.org.uk/giving-food to find out more about working with FareShare, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org