Food waste figures don’t tell the full story

While it might not yet have the headline data to prove it, Wrap argues the foodservice industry is making progress in the battle to limit food waste, writes Nick Hughes

On the face of it, Wrap’s latest food waste figures do not show foodservice businesses in the greatest light. Despite an overall 7% drop in per person food waste between 2015 and 2018 (against a 20% Courtauld 2025 target), waste from the foodservice and hospitality sector is estimated to have increased by 7%.

The headline statistic looks damning, especially when you consider that food waste now ranks above animal welfare as the number one food issue of concern for the UK public. Yet the true picture is more nuanced, reflecting an ongoing challenge faced by sustainability and health professionals in generating meaningful, accurate data for the out-of-home sector (sugar reduction is another case in point).

While the major food retailers report food waste figures to Wrap on an annual basis and data on manufacturers is available via the Environment Agency, national data on the volume of foodservice waste being generated currently does not exist. Instead, Wrap has to use its own modelling to predict how much food is being thrown away by caterers, restaurants, hotels and other foodservice establishments.

Wrap programme manager Andrew Parry explains that the estimated 7% figure is largely based on the sector’s expansion in recent years rather than a collective failure on the part of businesses to engage with the food waste agenda. “We’re making good progress, but we don’t yet have enough data from businesses to be able to generate accurate numbers,” Parry adds.

The progress he alludes to is the increase in foodservice businesses signing up to Wrap’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, in which they commit to implementing a strategy of “target, measure, act”. As of this month, 29 foodservice businesses have signed up, representing just over 20% of the sector by turnover. Although the proportion in retail and manufacturing is much higher (around 80% and 45% respectively) Parry says there is a specific set of challenges that can prevent foodservice operators from committing to reduce their food waste. “A lot of businesses operate a franchise system and there is also a greater number of SMEs, so it’s not surprising there is a smaller number of hospitality businesses that are implementing [target, measure, act]. What we are trying to do is provide sufficient support in the hope that we can significantly increase that number over the next few years.”

Last April, Wrap created a sector-specific action plan that defines the steps companies must take to deliver the UK Food Waste Reduction Roadmap. These include targets for 100% of waste management companies to be providing actual food waste data by 2026; for public sector procurement to include food waste data as a mandatory requirement in contracts from 2022; and for all large foodservice businesses to be raising awareness of food waste with key suppliers by 2020.

Supporting the action plan is Wrap’s Guardians of Grub campaign that provides businesses with tips on making simple, low-cost changes to the way food is bought, prepared and served that can reduce waste. Tips include ordering smaller portions of fresh produce more often; exploring ways of using the same ingredients for different dishes; and offering portion size and side dish options as well as takeaway “doggy boxes”.

“It’s really about understanding the hotspots and getting the team onsite to think about what solutions can work for them,” says Eleanor Morris, Wrap special advisor for hospitality and foodservice.

Morris notes that one area of real progress has been in the willingness of businesses to share their experiences and data, which in turn helps build a bank of shared sector knowledge on measures that can be taken to avoid food waste, often at little or no cost to the operator.

Guardians of Grub publishes case studies on businesses – from large contract caterers to independent pubs and restaurants – that have achieved notable successes in reducing their food waste. Through its Food Waste Costing the Earth programme whereby it segregates, weighs and reports food waste by plate waste, production waste and spoilage waste, BaxterStorey has reduced food waste by 42% since 2014.

The Airport Pub in Manchester, meanwhile, has reduced its usage of coleslaw from eight tubs a week to just one and helped cut plate waste by 14% simply by offering the choice of coleslaw and sauces to customers rather than serving them with dishes as standard. “The fact that we’ve now got an increasing number of real-world examples that other businesses can learn from is incredibly valuable,” says Parry.

Further significant reductions will be required for foodservice companies to achieve the SDG 12.3 target to reduce food waste across their own UK operations by 50% by 2030.

Still, the mood music coming out of Wrap is upbeat about the step change in engagement from the sector with the food waste agenda. The next challenge is to generate the numbers to prove it.

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