The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Food Waste Coalition of Action (the Coalition) has released a new report – developed in partnership with global consulting firm AlixPartners – demonstrating the full business case for tackling food loss and waste (FLW),  and estimating the true cost of food waste is undervalued by as much as 50%.

The comprehensive report, titled Driving Emissions Down and Profit Up by Reducing Food Waste,  outlines the potential for mitigating the effects of climate change and reinforcing the true financial value and climate impact of FLW reduction. 

Current estimates globally are that FLW accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, approximately a quarter of all freshwater use, and the total cost of FLW is estimated to be over $1 trillion. Despite the huge negative impacts of food waste, efforts to address it often fall short because the true financial cost of FLW is materially undervalued. 

The report estimates that the cost of food waste is estimated to be 25 – 50% higher than historical measures, and lays out the significant hidden impacts of food waste on company bottom lines and net zero targets. The cost of GHG emissions, it says, could be 2 to 8 times greater in 25 years time.

Coalition co-chairs, Chris Franke, Senior Manager, Global Sustainability at Walmart and Janelle Meyes, Chief Sustainability Officer at Kellanova, said:

“We are all familiar with the moral case for not wasting food, but the evidence compiled here points to an ever more compelling business case for taking action. Reducing food loss and waste both upstream and downstream is one of the biggest opportunities to mitigate the effects of climate change. Now is the time to learn more and take action to fix our food system”

Andy Searle, Partner & Managing Director and EMEA Leader for Consumer Products at AlixPartner, said:

Business leaders are aware that the costs of emissions are set to grow steeply, but our research shows that—even at the leading edge—food loss and waste is being only partially captured in reporting, with much higher costs than previously thought. The implied cost benefit of action on this front shifts the calculus for industry: tackling food loss and waste is not only crucial from a sustainability standpoint, but should be driven by the ever-stronger business case.

The study is based on research with members of the Coalition participating in interviews and working sessions with AlixPartners in the first quarter of 2024. 

The broad under-measurement of cost means businesses are not fully resourcing food-waste reduction efforts and may be overlooking a critical element of a successful net zero strategy. Measuring and addressing the full cost of food waste is an enormous and largely untapped value creation opportunity.

Using input from the coalition, AlixPartners established five key themes across the five pillars of FLW reduction and monitoring from which a capability assessment framework has been developed to provide clarity and guidance on where companies are on their waste-reduction journey. The FLW Capability Assessment offers a framework for any player in the food value chain to evaluate current FLW capabilities, identify gaps, and prioritise gap-closure actions. Many of the best practices are based upon the work coalition members have done or are doing to address FLW.

The Coalition brings together 19 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers at the CEO level with a shared commitment to halve food loss and waste in their supply chains, aligned with meeting Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. Existing Coalition initiatives include member commitments around measurement and reporting, taking practical steps to reduce food waste in their own operations and supply chains, and working collaboratively with other companies to innovate and help consumers reduce food waste.