A behind-the-scenes look at developing a powerful leadership campaign across the global food system, by Lucy Parker and Jon Miller, founding Partners of Brunswick’s Business & Society offer.
When new store openings are greeted with street protests from local communities, you know you’ve got a reputational issue. That was the situation facing Tesco when we started working with them in 2012: The company had grown into one of the world’s biggest food retailers, and yet was criticized for misusing its heft—trampling over local independent retailers, bullying suppliers and farmers, and generally using its scale to squeeze more profits from customers.
Our advice was: If the source of people’s concern stems from the sheer size of the company, we need to show that this scale can be used positively. It’s a common story: As a company grows, so do its impacts. Tesco’s brand slogan, “Every Little Helps,” was ringing hollow, and so we suggested an accompanying corporate mission: “Scale For Good”—a commitment to use the company’s size as a positive force.
We looked for a dramatic way that Tesco could convincingly use its Scale For Good—a big global challenge this big global company could take on. Our “issue mapping” exercise identified a major problem that had not yet seriously caught public attention, and one that Tesco was perfectly placed to tackle: food waste.
It was an exciting moment. We realized Tesco had the opportunity to become the leader in the fight against global food waste. We knew it was only a matter of time before it became a hot topic, and that Tesco had a chance for leadership in a literal sense: It could help to put the issue on the agenda, and be the first major company to seriously take it on.
Tesco’s leadership embraced it. Food waste is a systemic challenge and the company was one of the three largest players in the global food system. Only by working with actors along the entire value chain could any progress be made—and Tesco had the scale and reach to do this. And since food waste wasn’t an issue people were talking about yet, taking bold action would grab people’s attention—and enable the company to be a catalyst to action.
Tesco’s food waste campaign has blossomed into one of the great social value programs in the corporate world. The issue has since become a mainstream public concern and Tesco is a recognized leader. Dave Lewis, CEO from 2014 to 2020, went on to become chair of the global task force for delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goal on food waste.