When Tesco launched its new business values and corporate responsibility strategy We use our scale for good in May 2013, it also outlined three core ambitions central to this goal. One of these was to lead in reducing food waste globally.
As a sign of its commitment to this ambition, Tesco conducted substantial stakeholder research from which it became clear that a key way the supermarket could lead in this area was to develop and share its own data on levels of food waste.
Thus, five months after outlining its ambition, Tesco became the first retailer in the UK to publish independently assured food waste data from its own operations. This analysis revealed that 28,500 tonnes of food had been wasted in the stores and distribution centres of Tesco – the world’s third largest retailer – in the first six months of the year.
It also highlighted ‘farm to fork’ waste profiles for 25 of its most popular products, such as apples and bread. In doing so, the supermarket group was able to clearly identify areas where avoidable waste occurred in the supply chain, and to develop bespoke action plans to tackle these.
For example, it unveiled plans to end multi-buy offers on large bags of salads – 68 per cent of bagged salads are thrown away – and also to introduce more accurate IT systems for ordering and planning bakery products. Four in ten apples are wasted – of which customers account for just one – so Tesco is working with growers to develop ways to reduce pests and disease.
The findings coupled with action plans, which were presented as infographics, were reported in the interim Tesco and Society update to shareholders in October 2013.
The analysis was widely reported, including a front page article in The Daily Mail, but while initially the articles focussed on the volumes of waste at Tesco, the story soon turned into a major debate about the issue. Leading experts, including Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which revealed that food waste currently costs the average family £700 every year, joined the discussion, moving it from being solely a Tesco issue to an issue for the retail industry in general.
While Tesco is currently the only UK retailer to publish externally its food waste data, other retailers have pledged to work with the British Retail Consortium and publish independently assured data in the future. Tesco has also since facilitated round-table discussions with industry experts in the hope of finding a solution to the issue.
As a result of taking this step, and Tesco’s high profile campaign to raise awareness of this issue, WRAP now claims that 65 per cent of customers are now conscious of food waste, against just 35 per cent prior to the report.
‘This was a campaign that I thought at the time was brave,’ said the judges. ‘It absolutely stood out.’