Twice as high as estimated – the news that WWF broke in August 2021 on the amount of global food loss and waste weren’t exactly what was needed on top of the climate crisis, extreme weather events and its severe consequences as well as the worrying Covid-variants. A new report found that with 1,2 billion additional tons of food loss and waste on farm and field every year food loss and waste was in sum almost double as high as estimated by FAO in 2011. Until that very moment, (post-)harvest losses were not really a secret, but they were also not quantified. This means that in a world with more than 800 million people suffering from hunger and a growing number of people without access to balanced and varied diets the food ecosystem already loses 100 times the annual food loss and waste of Germany on farm and field level. According to WWF an estimated 40% of the food that is produced globally goes to waste uneaten. 40%!
Food loss and waste is a huge challenge of the sustainability agenda, deeply connected with many more issues. It is a societal and economic problem, causing at least $ 940 billion of economic loss each year. On top, it is a climate threat, responsible for 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest emitter after the US and China.
Most of the food loss and waste emerges at the very beginning and the very end of the food value chain but being retailers and wholesalers, we need to understand how we can play our part in moving the needle. Our influence reaches from farm to fork – so let’s be influencers in its best sense. Let’s work the food value chain.
This is how we do it
At METRO, we value our close relationships with our suppliers hence we often know their pain points. In India for example growing fruit and vegetables in rural areas poses many challenges to the farmers to get their products to the fresh market or to our stores. The typical weather conditions, hot and humid, combined with inefficient transportation cause high losses before the food even reaches our stores. Thus, we have installed food collection points close to the farms and production sites to help farmers massively shorten the time needed to drop of their fresh produce. Also, the food is stored and transported by securing an unbroken cold straight to the METRO stores. The average time from farm to store in India has been reduced from 36 to 8 hours with a significant reduction of food loss and waste on top.
To engage further with our producers we became part of the 10x20x30 Initiative of the World Resources Institute amplified by the Food Waste Coalition of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). The initiative builds on catalysator technique, engaging 10 of the world’s largest retailers and wholesalers to involve at least 20 of their priority suppliers to jointly halve their food waste by 2030. We are proud to share that at METRO we have recruited more than 30 suppliers so far.
In our stores we benefit from knowing our professional customers well. Hence, we can anticipate their needs. This helps us to maintain optimal stock and forecast better. We also work with partners to tackle food waste in our stores. We are partnering with food bank organizations in 22 of our 24 countries in which we operate stores. In Germany our partnership goes back more than 2 decades, in Romania just recently our #METROheroes supported the set-up of a food bank system which all 30 stores now are connected to. We work with food waste warriors such as Too Good To Go (so far active in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain), and WholeSurplus (Turkey) and we have just launched a trial with Wasteless to apply AI-driven pricing technology to sell perishables close to their expiry date by price adjustments in our stores in Poland.
Moving on to the end of our food value chain, we work with our customers to offer them advice and concrete support on tackling food waste on their operational level. With our toolbox “My Sustainable Restaurant” we offer helpful guidelines. We also aim to scale up our collaboration with the startup KITRO with which we ran a successful pilot in Berlin. Using smart tools to quantify food waste sources in gastronomy, KITRO gives its customers concrete indications to optimize offer and processes. Finally, sustainable to-go boxes help our customers and their own customers to save good food from the bin by giving it a second chance to be a late-night-snack or a next-day-lunch.
Let’s get down to business
Managing food waste efficiently is not only a moral obligation but it is a business case as well, hence reporting is crucial when it comes to tackling food loss and waste. At METRO, we report against the Food Lose and Waste (FLW) Protocol ever since we have committed to halving food waste in our own operations by 2025 under the umbrella of the CGF’s Resolution on Food Waste in 2016. Specifically, the “target-measure-act” approach helps us identifying sources of food loss and waste in our operations and thus target the root cause. We therefore value the CGF Food Waste Coalition’s plans to build a reporting structure based on a harmonized data approach. The structure is based on the Food Waste Atlas which has been built by WRAP UK and the World Resources Institute and supports the FLW Protocol.
Food loss and waste can’t be pinpointed to certain areas. It is a systematic problem of the entire food value chain and needs to be treated like this. Wholesalers like us who have the leverage to reach out up- and downstream need to be advocates for fighting food waste along the entire supply chain – from farm to fork. Food is essential but it is also essentially linked to so many of today’s sustainability challenges – from land use to CO2 emissions.
When we understand its profound position at the center of so many pain points, its multiplying effects on so many of the challenges we face today, when we understand that we as retailers can do so much more than just looking at our own operations, then we will become empowered to move many needles at once. Then the food waste breakthrough will be possible, and it will come with many positive side effects along the way.