Waste reduction in the fresh produce sector

In the UK, over 2 million tonnes of fresh produce are lost or wasted each year in the supply chain alone. It is estimated that, through action to reduce or prevent this waste, the UK fresh produce industry could make savings of between £400 million and £500 million a year.

The most significant causes of waste to target for reduction are:

  • Products which do not reach their intended market outlet – oversupply, not meeting or changing specification requirements.
  • Loss of product because of poor supply chain management – for example changing packaging specifications which provides less protection for products or incorrect demand forecasting. Such losses are estimated to be between 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes a year - between 5% and 7.5% of total annual waste arisings.
  • Damage through handling and storage at depots and stores

How can produce waste be reduced?

Follow WRAP’s 5-5-5 approach to ensure you are taking the most effective steps to reducing waste and use the W.A.S.T.E. problem-solving tool to help you do this.

Improve supply chain communications

Talk to your suppliers to get an idea of the progress of the crop; this will improve forecasting. Work closely with suppliers and customers to minimise instances where produce is out of specification, close to sell-by date or returned.

Grape idea to reduce waste

To help reduce grape waste, Tesco has shortened its supply chain and guaranteed in advance to buy at least 80% of grapes from its suppliers. Suppliers are therefore better able to forecast demand and are less likely to end up with unsold grapes. Tesco has also been able to cut out a stage in their distribution chain and reduce the time grapes take to arrive in the UK, thereby extending the code life of the product and helping prevent waste.

Review consumer specifications.

Introduce flexibility in size, colour and weight specifications to account for natural variability. There may be opportunities to introduce new value lines for certain products or promotions for misshapen produce.

Action in the potato supply chain

WRAP have published guidance on Increasing Profitability in the Potato Supply Chain. This guidance can be used to:

  • identify where actions can be taken in the supply chain to improve efficiency and maximise the £ value from the crop;
  • consider what improvement opportunities to focus on in discussions with suppliers or in specifying products; and
  • understand how much you could save by taking action.

Co-operative Food and Farms worked with WRAP to identify where value is lost in the potato supply chain, finding that Packhouses are the most significant source of waste with more than 20% of product typically lost due to downgrades. On farm, storage and retail operations also contributed to the losses. 

‘There are considerable resource inefficiencies within the potato supply chain. Making waste central to the decision-making process and continuing to assess consumptions and losses in the supply chain is a significant opportunity for the business. Consideration of ‘waste’ in all its forms is not only good commercial sense, but it is expected by the consumers of products from an ethical retailer.’
Philip Burgess, (then) Agronomy and Technical Manager 

Work to optimise packaging

  • Look at reducing pack weight and using modified atmosphere packaging or improved seal integrity techniques to reduce the risk of food waste.
  • Consider using returnable, re-usable transit packaging to reduce secondary packaging waste.
  • Think about the most appropriate case sizes for particular store formats, such as smaller cases for convenience stores.
  • Use packaging design and labelling opportunities to help consumers reduce food waste and recycle more.
  • Improved packaging design can also reduce the carbon impact of packaging.

Rightsizing

The Co-operative Group is reviewing the size of cases across their produce range in order to establish the most efficient size for different store formats and products.  Co-op Central England undertook a trial that found a sizable reduction in banana waste was achieved by moving to smaller case sizes. 

If it’s not possible to eliminate waste, manufacturers and retailers should:

Redistribute.  Surplus food fit for human consumption can be redistributed to commercial organisations or charities such as Plan Zheroes, FareShare and Foodcycle.  If not suitable for human consumption, investigate whether it can be sent for animal feed.

Recycle more.  Where redistribution is not possible, consider composting food waste or sending it for anaerobic digestion instead of disposal to landfill.

There’s also a key part businesses can play in helping consumers reduce food waste and recycle more through:

  • Improving packaging functionality, for example recloseable packs
  • On pack guidance, for example recycling, date labelling and storage freezing and defrosting guidance

See also:

Case studies: