Tackling the food waste phenomenon by Glynn Davis

15th September 2017

Tackling the food waste phenomenon by Glynn Davis

Starbucks’ decision to sell leftover food at half-price in the final hour of trading at its UK stores sounds like a great idea to me. After initial trials at 16 outlets in Manchester, Starbucks is rolling the initiative out across its 350 company-owned stores and is looking to convince its franchise partners to follow suit.


All proceeds from the sale of these near-expiry-date items go to Action Against Hunger. Starbucks’ 11-week trial resulted in £1,500 being donated to the charity so the sums across the whole estate will be meaningful indeed. This is one of those rare occasions when it really is a “win-win situation” because as well as fighting hunger this initiative also helps to tackle the huge issue of food waste.


The reality is that as margins come under pressure from a raft of factors, including the continuing rise of the price of raw materials, being able to reduce waste becomes ever more important. Selling food that would otherwise be thrown away at a discounted rate surely makes sense to support your margins or, in the case of Starbucks, convert into a charitable contribution.


Food waste is going to be an increasingly important aspect for all foodservice companies. If tackling food waste was initially seen as something good to do, as the market becomes tougher to compete in it will also become a financial imperative for more companies.


One interesting business to emerge from this situation is craft brewer Toast, which takes the ends of loaves from sandwich-makers and unsold bread from bakers and uses them to make beer. Initially, Toast only produced a pale ale but it recently expanded its range with the addition of Much Kneaded Lager and Bloomin’ Lovely Session IPA.


Toast’s objective is to use some of the staggering 44% of baked bread that goes to waste to make beer while giving 100% of profits from sales to food waste charity Feedback. Tesco, Waitrose and Fortnum & Mason, as well as many pubs and bars, stock the beer through distribution deals with Carlsberg and Matthew Clark. A launch is also planned for New York.


Foodservice companies can also take advantage of technology to reduce waste, with a number of apps coming on to the market that help connect businesses’ leftover food with people who are seeking a bargain.


TooGoodToGo is one such app, which was founded in Denmark and subsequently launched in London with its simple online platform enabling restaurants and cafes to list any leftover meals and their price. Users select their chosen meals from the app and the price they are willing to pay and, if successful, collect the meal as a takeaway at an agreed time.


Another app with the same underlying objective is Olio, which has worked with Sainsbury’s and would be equally applicable for foodservice businesses. Photos of any surplus food are uploaded on to the app, with users able to select items before collecting them from the participating business.


These are experimental solutions and no doubt others will emerge because the issue of food waste is not going to go away. Food waste is rising up the agenda of all businesses that deal with perishable food and will increasingly have an impact on companies –financially and from an ethical standpoint. The awareness of food waste has been significantly enhanced through media campaigns such as the one recently launched by the London Evening Standard.


This means a growing number of consumers find food waste an unpalatable modern-day phenomenon and will increasingly demand that foodservice companies they choose to buy from address the problem. Otherwise they will take their business to another operator –such as Starbucks – that shows it cares just as much about this unacceptable situation.

Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

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