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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.

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 and we have an overarching ambition to be a zero waste business. We have committed to reduce food waste in our M&S operated stores in the UK by 20% per square foot by 2020 against a 2013/14 baseline, to halve food waste (net relative to sales) by 2025 and ensure all our edible food waste is redistributed via our charity partners.

We are also signatories to Courtauld 2025 where tackling food waste across the industry is one of its priorities.

Approach
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 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:
Our business - tackling food waste in our own operations
As a predominately fresh food retailer, with a strong focus on convenience we face some unique challenges in addressing food surplus in our stores.

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 using next generation AI technology to maximise the amount of food bought by our customers. We are also reducing our promotions which customers say leads to over-purchasing, reviewing use of date labels on products and continuing to extend product life in store.

We have been reviewing the causes of food waste in our operations and supply chain and we have several cross-business groups driving solutions forward.

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 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 partner platform, Neighbourly and others such as Company Shop and FareShare. Through Neighbourly, we 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.

In October 2015 we launched our 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 2015, followed by the roll out to all remaining owned stores in spring 2016. We are working in partnership with Neighbourly as a platform to enhance every store connection with existing and new local charity partners to collect surplus food.

We are able to donate fruit, vegetables, bread, cake, groceries, cold chain, meat, flowers as well as non-food products such as pet food, sanitary items and cleaning products. We are looking at ways to increase what we distribute through Neighbourly, for example sending coffee grounds to allotments.

We also work closely with a range of partners such as Company Shop (with whom we have worked for over a decide) and FareShare helping to ensure surplus stock does not go to waste from our depots.

Since we started our redistribution programme in 2015/16, we have redistributed over 5 million meals preventing 2,300 tonnes of food from going to waste.  

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.


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

Through our award-winning Food Sustainability Framework we have worked hard with suppliers to motivate and incentivise their efforts to prevent and reduce waste occurring whether on farm or as part of the manufacturing process. We’ve done this by embedding operational excellence (known as lean manufacturing) through waste process mapping, adopting waste management practices, improving understanding of where waste is occurring, creating joint initiatives such as shared forecast planning and review of product specifications. Find out more about our Sustainability Framework.

We have held numerous ‘supplier exchange’ events and conferences to inspire, up-skill and connect suppliers with food redistribution partners.  We’ve also provided suppliers with various tools to address waste, primarily beginning with mapping exercises to identify waste, reporting, waste contractor management) 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.

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. 


Our customers - 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 throw away.

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.

We know we can do more and are looking at other ways we can help our customers take action in the home.


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

We are signatories to WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment which is pushing for improved resource efficiency and a reduction in food waste by 20% within the UK grocery sector by 2025.

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’re working with a number of charitable organisations (Company Shop, FareShare, FoodCycle, City Harvest 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 British Retail Consortium and the Institute of Grocery Distribution on various initiatives related to food waste.