Where is the waste in the system?
Very little of it is in retail. The majority is either before it gets to the store or once it leaves the store. But the nature of food loss and waste varies around the world. In economically developing countries, you see more food loss “closer to the farm,” during production, handling, and storage. Yet in economically developed countries, you see more food waste “closer to the plate,” at the consumption stage—that’s where 58% of the waste happens in North America, for example, and 42% happens in Europe. That’s in people’s homes. So that’s about addressing consumer behavior, right?
Changing consumer behavior is notoriously hard. Do you believe your consumers care about food waste?
Whenever you talk to consumers about their domestic consumption, nobody’s happy about the fact that they waste food. But in the way that people actually live their life, it’s not uppermost in their mind for most people, no.
But if you think about your question, it pre-supposes that consumers completely understand everything about it. And they don’t. These are not things consumers should know or would want to know. We don’t need consumers to know everything about food waste. But if we were able to talk to them about it, what would they want us to do? And we think that if consumers knew what we know about it, they would want us to do what we’re doing.
It’s too easy to say consumers don’t care. Actually, I think consumers look more and more to businesses and brands like ours to be responsible on their behalf.
But is there anything you can you do to influence consumer behavior in any meaningful way?
The critical thing is: what actions can we take to help them change their behavior to avoid waste? And there are some practical things we can do: change the promotional plan, change the packaging, and drive education.
We used to have a program to drive volume in fresh produce, for example, where consumers could buy two lettuces, say, and save 25%, or “Buy one, get one free.” That means consumers take two home when they really only ever needed one and they find themselves throwing the other out. Our promotional program was driving food waste. So, we changed that promotional program and moved towards a policy of everyday low price.
What about employees, do they care about food waste?
Absolutely, they do. Of course, when you start on something like this, you’re changing routines so, for people in the business, it starts as more work. Then you get it into the routine; everyone learns to manage it. So, our rates of food waste operationally have become really very low.
Beyond that, what’s most powerful for colleagues in-store is seeing that food that would be wasted is being donated to projects in their own communities. We have a partnership with FareShare to distribute to 7,000 local community projects at the end of each day. And you often hear of colleagues dropping it off the on their way home. As a result, colleagues drive this initiative. There’s definitely a cost to delivering it but, if I were to try and take this out of the business today, there’d be a mutiny. It’s taken on a life of its own.
So it works at different levels. Colleagues in-store get really involved with the food donation part. Meanwhile, we work across the whole value chain in partnerships with suppliers. These are all parts of a systematic approach.