Waste reduction in the processed food sector

Studies indicate that the ready meals and chilled products sector generates up to 12% of the total waste arising in the food and drink supply chain (including packaging).

The top causes of waste are:

  • Machinery performance problems – such as product blockages and mechanical mishandling; product damage is estimated to be between 2.5 and 9%;
  • Poor quality production – such as over/under baking and over/under weight; reject rates average 3.5%;
  • Trimmings – such as un-reused pastry trim, bread crusts, tomato ends and vegetable peel;
  • Packaging – such as raw material packaging and scrapped product packaging;
  • Product disposals – such as products being past their sell-by or best-before dates; and
  • Market ‘imposed’ – such as last-minute customer order cancellations, inaccurate demand forecasting and a sudden loss of orders due to a change in the weather.

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.

Examples of what manufacturers can do:

  • Technical improvements – walking the line can often identify problems between various parts of the process, for example are there any cases of machinery performance problems such as product jams and mechanical mis-handlings?
  • Increase rework where possible – if a waste can’t be prevented, can it be returned back to the process?  Would better segregation stop it being contaminated so it could be reused?
  • Could offcuts be used as an ingredient in another product in your range or could you sell them to another company?
  • Ensure Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) are appropriate – can customer or internal specifications be challenged to reduce waste but still meet necessary standards?
  • Check if SOPs are being followed – are staff being over cautious in their quality checking and throwing out perfectly good product?
Value chain analysis
Greencore has worked in collaboration with Sainsbury’s and key suppliers to reduce food and packaging waste across the whole sandwich food supply chain. Using a Value Chain Analysis methodology, key process stages were mapped and improvement opportunities identified with the potential to save 1800 tonnes of waste by the end of 2015.

Examples of what manufacturers and retailers could do collaboratively:

Improve supply chain communications  

Work closely with suppliers and customers to minimise instances where ingredients and product are out of specification, close to sell-by date or returned. 

Timely orders
Greater collaboration between Morrisons and Kerry Noon reduced ready-meal waste worth £100,000 a year and saved mark-down worth £17,000. Simple changes, for example to the timing of orders, led to a reduction in waste of 223 tonnes in 2010 and 421 tonnes in 2011.

Faster and Fresher
ASDA is delivering fresher products to its customers by implementing efficiencies to its delivery and store systems. Working with its supply chain, ASDA was able to increase the shelf life of over 1,500 chilled products by an extra day, while maintaining a low price offer.

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.
  • Catering packs can also minimise packaging waste – but only if this is not going to create food waste due to product deterioration prior to use.
  • Improved packaging design can also reduce the carbon impact of packaging.

Re-using packaging to save money
Mondelēz International, a snacks company, has switched to re-usable rigid packaging (polypans) to significantly reduce single-use transit packaging for its 'work in progress’ factory products. Moving to polypans and an automated handling system has saved over 1,000 tonnes of cardboard and more than 40,000 road miles a year.

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

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