The true cost of food waste in the UK supply chain

According to recent research conducted by supply chain specialists Balloon One, 4.8 million tonnes of food are wasted in the UK supply chain every year. That’s enough to feed approximately 2,646,000,000 people each day, or everyone in the UK for 39 days.

Food waste is not only an issue for your bank balance, but the environment too. When we throw food away, we’re wasting the water, energy, and space that’s been used to grow, produce, and transport it.

Not only that, but according to FareShare, approximately 8.4 million people in the UK are living in food insecure homes. The amount of food waste produced by the sector is enough to feed everyone in the UK and tackle the country’s food poverty crisis.

Using statistics from WRAP’s report on food waste in primary production in the UK, Balloon One analysed food waste data across four main industries – retail, manufacturing & processing, agriculture & primary production, and hospitality & food service – to discover the truth behind the UK’s waste problem.

It compared WRAP’s data with the average amount of food each person needs per day, to work out the true cost of the UK supply chain’s food waste problem.

The supply chain’s problem with food waste

The waste produced by the supply chain is significant, but if we break the data down more, we can work out exactly which sectors hold the most responsibility.

Manufacturing and processing produced the largest amount of food waste. The 1.9 million tonnes created by this sector is enough to feed approximately 1,047,375,000 people every day. That’s the equivalent of feeding everyone in the UK for 16 days.

Following closely behind is agriculture and primary production. This sector’s 1.6 million tonnes of food waste could feed 882,000,000 people every day, or provide almost two weeks’ (13 days’) worth of food for everyone in the UK.

Not far behind is hospitality and food service, which produces 1 million tonnes of food waste — enough to feed 551,250,000 people in just one day, or everyone in the UK for approximately eight days.

Of all the sectors, retail produced the lowest amount of food waste, but the amount still remains high. At 0.3 million tonnes, this sector wastes enough food to feed approximately 165,375,000 people per day. That could feed everyone in the UK for three whole days.

Balloon One’s results showed that there’s still a very long way to go to reduce food waste in the supply chain, but what can you do to help?

When dealing with perishable items such as food, effective stock control is vital. Monitoring your stock turn and waste, automating your processes, and improving storage can all help to reduce your food waste in the supply chain.

Monitor your food waste

The first step towards reducing your food waste is taking a closer look at the problem within your business. Monitoring your current waste levels and measuring your stock turn means you can set targets for your operation. For example, you may wish to halve the percentage of food wasted in your factory, warehouse, store, or restaurant. This allows you to effectively plan your next steps if you’re working towards a clear goal.

Capturing this data also means you can track which foods are commonly wasted, along with information on expiry dates and storage times, so you can take steps towards reducing your waste. For example, if a certain product or ingredient is commonly thrown away, then you can order fewer units in the future.

While monitoring your food waste, it’s a good idea to also track your receipt accuracy metrics. This will tell you how accurate the orders that you receive from your suppliers are, so you can identify whether the issue is an internal one or a problem with your supplier. For example, if you commonly receive orders with short expiry dates, then you may need to speak to your supplier about organising longer timescales.

Automate your processes

When shipments come into the warehouse, a lot of information needs to be stored about each one. Things like quantities, SKU numbers, batch or serial numbers, and expiry dates all need to be logged, which can take a lot of time to do manually and can put your lead times back. And, the longer it takes for your products to reach your shelves, the longer it will be before it can reach the customer — increasing the risk of spoilage.

This is where automation comes in. Advanced shipping notice (ANS) can help reduce the time it takes to get your products onto your shelves. ANS will notify you of a pending shipment and allows you to receive data on your delivery, such as expiry dates and storage conditions. This means you can accept your order while it’s on its way, meaning it can be booked in much faster.

By investing in barcode scanners, you can quickly and efficiently log each unit as it comes in, saving you time and resources. Barcodes and QR codes can contain a multitude of data, including expiration dates and storage conditions, which allows you to maximise the shelf life of each product. Having this information immediately available ensures consistency across the entire supply chain, and minimises the likelihood of the cold chain being broken.

All of this information can also be imported over to your warehouse management system (WMS), so you can see how long you have to move your products. This automation and can monitor if any stock is due to expire soon, so you can make decisions accordingly. This data can also be transferred over to your customer. Whether it’s a retail customer or hospitality client, giving them up-to-date reports on expiry dates allows them to plan and reduce food waste in their own business too.

Improve inventory management

One major factor in food waste is planning for demand that never comes. Having a flexible supply chain is vital. There’s no real way to predict what will happen in the future, but by monitoring analytics throughout the supply chain, you can track when supply isn’t keeping up with demand, or vice versa, so you can amend your processes to suit.

For example, instead of manufacturing or keeping excess stock of a particular product just in case demand rises, you can use real time analytics to monitor trends. This means you can quickly react to a surge in demand and can produce, order, or send out extra shipments when you can be sure it’s needed.

The layout of your warehouse, stock room, or store can also go a long way towards reducing your food waste and improving efficiency. If your WMS flags that a particular unit is due to expire, this can be moved into a marked area ready to be discounted. This makes it more likely to be sold rather than wasted. Alternatively, consider donating this excess food to a local charity or food bank to do your bit to tackle food poverty and reduce your impact on the environment.

Commenting on the data, Craig Powell, Managing Director at Balloon One, said: “The true cost of food waste in the supply chain really is shocking. With so many families going without meals, the food we’re wasting is enough to feed everyone in the UK for over a month! Clearly there are steps we need to take as an industry to reduce our waste.

“The sheer amount of food we’re throwing away is enormous, and it’s vital that every business does their bit if we want to make a difference, and each sector must work together to have the biggest impact.

“The good news is that most of our food waste can easily be avoided and is largely due to an inefficient supply chain holding things up and wasting valuable time. And, when it comes to perishable items like food, time is of the essence at every stage.

“We’re lucky enough to have innovative technology right at our fingertips, and this tech can drastically change our processes for the better. By investing in WMS and automated systems, warehouses, transport management companies, retailers, and hospitality venues can all collaborate and reduce lead times. That means food can get from farm to fork much more quickly.

“There are a few changes that every business can make to tackle the problem. So, whether you lower your inventory levels or automate your processes, every company, no matter their size, can get involved and have an impact.”

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