Food Waste

Today several billion tonnes of food are produced each year globally. Many food manufacturers and retailers take waste prevention seriously as part of their commitment to responsible business conduct and sustainability. Addressing food waste represents a significant opportunity as it could lead to improved food security for people and communities, reduced demands on the planet as well as improved costs for companies in the food value chain and their respective customers.

In recent years the industry has made significant progress in reducing the volumes of waste that are sent to landfill. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) the food manufacturing and retail sectors in the UK are highly efficient, with <5% surplus and waste (0.7% in the case of UK retail). Across the industry unavoidable waste is now commonly sent to anaerobic digestion, energy from waste solutions, or is used as animal feed. By building on efforts made to date, the industry recognises that there is an opportunity to go even further through greater waste prevention and redistributing that which cannot be prevented.  

We work extremely hard across all areas of our business – farmers, suppliers, distributors and stores – on a shared goal of minimising the amount of M&S food that goes unsold. Where there is unsold M&S food, we will, wherever we can, put it to the best possible use and believe we have an important role to play in engaging our customers and suppliers in a collective effort on this issue which can make a positive difference to our business and local communities. 

Commitments and targets
Waste has always been a Plan A priority, with many commitments related to the issue. We have committed to reducing food waste in our M&S operated stores in the UK by 20% per square foot by 2020 against a 2013/14 baseline. We will start reporting on our progress against our food waste target annually from 2016. 

We also support the Consumer Goods Forum’s aim to halve operational food waste by 2025 and will be party to Courtauld 2025 where tackling food waste across the industry will be one of its priorities. 

Our priority is to reduce the food waste we create and ensure as much surplus as possible reaches people’s plates.

Our work with WRAP, Consumer Goods Forum, Institute of Grocery Distribution, British Retail Consortium (BRC) and our suppliers has highlighted the need for us to focus not only on our stores and logistics, but also on reducing waste from our supply chain and engaging customers to store and use food more efficiently.

We are signatories to WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment which is pushing for improved resource efficiency and reduced waste within the UK grocery sector. We also support the BRC’s Better Retailing Climate initiative which is pushing for the retail sector to send less than 1% of their waste to landfill by 2020.

Through the Consumer Goods Forum we are playing our part in tackling the global food waste challenge by agreeing to halve food waste within our operations by 2025 against a 2016 baseline and contributing to associated UN Global Goals on sustainable consumption and production by 2030, including the aspiration to halve per capita food waste by 2030.

We monitor our overall waste performance on a monthly basis. Annual progress is independently assured and reported in our Plan A Report. Find out more about our approach to waste and circular economy.

From 1 April 2013, M&S-operated and joint-venture stores, offices, warehouses and delivery fleets around the world have been carbon neutral. The recycling and disposal of our waste is included within our reporting boundaries. Find out more about our approach to climate change.

We have a unique role to play in engaging and taking action on food waste where we can make a significant positive difference to our business and our local communities. 

Our approach to food waste focuses on the following:
Tackling food waste in our own operations
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, FoodCycle and Neighbourly). 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.

Helping our suppliers to reduce food waste
Working with WRAP, suppliers and trade associations we’ve estimated (based on our 4% market share) that our value chain accounts for around 2.5m tonnes of waste across the world – around 80% of which is in our supply chain. Whilst we don’t currently know how of much of this equates to surplus food we do know it’s likely to be significant.

We’ve been working with our suppliers and other retailers for many years to reduce the carbon impact of food packaging and food waste as part of the Courtauld Commitment obligations.

Over the last 5 years we’ve also been working with our food suppliers to help them divert waste away from landfill by using the most carbon efficient approach available, for example anaerobic digestion or composting. We’re also working with our suppliers to minimise food packaging write-offs. This has been supported through the introduction of industry-leading programmes covering manufacturing and farming excellence that encourage diversion from landfill and give credit for waste reduction. For example, through our Food Sustainability Scorecard we have worked hard with suppliers to motivate and incentivise their efforts to prevent waste occurring. We’ve done this by embedding lean and waste management practices, improving our understanding of where waste is occurring and encouraging them to actively look for redistribution opportunities to ensure as much food as possible reaches people's plates. Find out more about our Sustainability Scorecard.

We also work closely with a range of partners such as Company Shop (with whom we have worked for over a decade) and FareShare helping to ensure surplus stock does not go to waste from our depots and suppliers. Two years ago we strengthened our efforts and as a result suppliers have increased what they redistribute to Company Shop by 300% and, in the last 12 months, food suppliers have redistributed 768 tonnes. We can also demonstrate the more businesses redistribute the better their overall businesses waste reduction results. Taking ownership of this issue has also been incredibly rewarding for suppliers, who have seen the positive social and environmental impact that they can achieve with their surplus. 

Through the improvements in forecasting and stock filing, our ordering accuracy is improving, although we recognise that we still have work to do as some of our suppliers (especially our primary producers) have long lead-in times for products.

We’ve provided suppliers with various tools to address waste, primarily beginning with mapping exercises to identify waste, contacts for redistributing products and conversations to enable other solutions for more tricky areas. These include avenues for non-finished products that suppliers were less confident were of use to charity as well as innovative solutions for waste. For instance, one supplier found that a significant proportion of their olive crop was not of good enough quality to be sold so used it to produce a tapenade instead, creating a new revenue stream.

Engaging consumers to store and use food more efficiently
We have a number of initiatives to help our customers reduce the amount of food they dispose of.

We are partnering with WRAP and the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) on their customer facing campaigns such as Love Food, Hate Waste. This provides tools to educate customers around meal planning, correct storage of products, recipes to use up leftovers as well as general hints and tips. We also support WRAP’s Ten Cities campaign and have sponsored specific action in Greater Manchester. For example, consumers have been provided with hints and tips on the best ways to avoid food waste, demonstrated with free fruit smoothies made from surplus food. We also participated in an event with the University of Leeds and the IGD on the role of packaging in helping to extend product life with students, academics and local businesses.

We’ve taken action to improve the clarity of food date code labelling and changed freezing instructions from ‘freeze on day of purchase’ to ‘freeze by date code’. Together with the actions of other retailers and food suppliers this has already succeeded in reducing UK household food waste by over 1m tonnes.

We support and helped launch WRAP’s Fresher for Longer campaign and have taken action on packaging to extend product life and make it fresher for longer. For example, introducing plaster-style strips to items such as punnets of strawberries and raspberries to absorb moisture extending the life of the fruit by up to two days. Other innovations include trials of Plantic bioplastic skin packs for packaging fresh fish and meat.

We’ve also supported start-up charity Hubbub’s ‘Festive Freeze’ which aims to help consumers reduce food waste by informing and inspiring them to make the most of their festive leftovers. Independent research has shown food waste could be cut in half, saving £250 a year, by freezing food that would otherwise end up in the bin.

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

We’re working with a number of charitable organisations (Company Shop, FareShare, FoodCycle and Neighbourly) to redistribute surplus food to a wide range of charities that cook for those in need and are on the frontline of dealing with food poverty. 

We’re working closely with the Government, the Institute of Grocery Distribution, and the British Retail Consortium on various initiatives related to food waste and are signatories to a major voluntary agreement overseen by WRAP. Through the Consumer Goods Forum we are playing our part in tackling the global food waste challenge.

Waste & Circular Economy

Find out about our approach to waste and the circular economy


Food Packaging & Hardware

Find out more about our approach to packaging and hardware