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‘Edible food turning into waste is more than shameful’

Alan Bird, Commercial Director at Wessanen UK, tells us about how the company has changed processes and partnerships to attack waste

Food waste is very costly to our industry. It eats into profits, time and, depending on how it’s resolved, our conscience too. So many strategies, plans, processes and actions look to minimise the impact – yet despite the effort and focus, the uncomfortable truth is that waste remains a big issue.

Like many grocery businesses – both suppliers and retailers – Wessanen has looked to work effectively and efficiently to simplify operations and processes to reduce waste.

But in essence changes do happen in demand, production and distribution. These changes test the processes and operations, and this is when waste could be created.

When faced with excess stock Wessanen, similar to other companies, will manage it by looking to work with existing customers and offering promotional activity to stimulate demand. Following this we will look to generate demand outside of existing or traditional routes by working with new customers and also as well as with our own employees to ensure that the food is not wasted.

All of this is happening against a ticking clock of the best before date, marking the point where the food can’t be passed on. If this date is reached, then the food turns into waste. But even at this point there are many viable options, such as animal feed and anaerobic digestion, before we reach the shameful position of landfill. Not only hugely harmful to our planet, it also has an associated cost of circa £88 per tonne.

As a company our main focus continues to be reducing excess stock, but to ensure success we have now added another step to the process. A food product with 30 days remaining until its best before date now triggers a call to a charity called Fareshare.

It’s true that with 30 days to go, there is a possibility that we could still sell the product, but the trigger that includes Fareshare forces us to look at what we could do differently now and question what has prevented our ability to sell the stock in the several months we have had it. In this way it actually supports the focus on business priorities while facing up to a specific situation on surplus stock.

With 30 days remaining on the life of the product, Fareshare is able to work with us on discussing which of the 20 distribution centres would want the food. It’s at this point Fareshare takes over. From these centres over 2,000 charities across the UK are supported. Through an exceptional volunteer team and a national network provided by Fareshare, a broad spectrum of charities help feed roughly 150,000 vulnerable people every year.

Our relationship with Fareshare is very recent; we have only been working with them since April this year. Rather than deal with “food waste” we are now actively dealing with “surplus stock,” making sure if it is fit for human consumption then that is how it will be used.

This is ultimately the right thing to do, and has business benefits too. In the short time we have been working with Fareshare, Wessanen has reduced the costs associated with both surplus stock and food waste.

Despite our best efforts, it’s impossible to completely eradicate surplus stock. Up until this year, what our business was missing was that crucial step to preventing our stock turning into food waste.

The penny has dropped for us with our relationship with Fareshare. I hope that it will for many other suppliers too.

Read more articles from the current issue of Better Retailing here...