As a predominately fresh food retailer (80% fresh against a market average of 50%), with a strong focus on convenience – 40% of our customers are shopping ‘for tonight’ – the challenges of addressing food surplus in our stores are different to the rest of the sector.
Minimising our surplus food and drink
Firstly, we’re working hard to reduce the amount of surplus we create in the first place by optimising our planning and forecasting systems to maximise the amount of food bought by our customers.
We have been reviewing the causes of food waste in our operations and supply chain and we have several cross-business groups exploring solutions to address them.
Over the last five years we have made significant improvements in our forecasting and ordering systems which have improved our ability to allocate the right amount of stock to each store. Inevitably, the nature of the retail environment (e.g. customer choice, weather uncertainties, etc) means we are generally left with some surpluses in store.
One way in which we are addressing this is through our recovery (reduced sales to customers’) programme which is in place across all our stores. All products that are going out of life that day receive up to three reductions to maximise our sales potential. This process now consistently clears around 70-75% of products that would otherwise have been disposed of.
Donations to charity
Despite our best efforts there will inevitably always be some surplus at the end of the day.
We estimate that up to 45% of this surplus (dependent on the capacity of charities and the quality of the products) has the potential to be redistributed to those in need through our charitable partners (such as Company Shop
). These schemes can redistribute surplus food from the back of our stores to a wide range of charities that cook for those in need and are on the frontline of dealing with food poverty.
We have run a number of trials across the country (operating in 45 stores) to establish the best model for getting our surplus food to those who need it whilst maintaining our visibility and traceability of these items. As a result, in October 2015 we launched a nationwide food redistribution scheme
to connect all of our owned stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland with existing and new local charity partners. In the initial launch phase, 150 of our biggest stores were redistributing surplus food by December, followed by the roll out to all remaining owned stores in spring 2016. We are working in partnership with Neighbourly as a platform to connect every store with existing and new local charity partners to collect surplus food.
We are able to donate fruit, vegetables, bread, cake, groceries and flowers. We are looking at ways to increase what we distribute through Neighbourly
, for example sending coffee grounds to allotments.
Recovery of residual food waste
There are a number of factors that will influence how much can be redistributed.
For example, many charities can’t collect 7 days a week or won’t have use of all the products we make available for redistribution.
By law we are also unable to donate any products that have gone past their ‘use by’ date but this is an area the industry is doing some research into.
As a result, there will continue to be some surplus that we are unable to redistribute.
As a business we’ve sent no waste to landfill since 2012 and any food waste that cannot be sold or redistributed is sent to anaerobic digestion plants. This ultimately creates electricity (some of which we buy back for our own energy supply) and produces digestate which can be used as a fertiliser.