'We have to stop admiring the problem and get to work': Unilever on the role industry can play in food waste

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Food waste Unilever

The food industry has a ‘critical and urgent’ role to play to resolve the food waste crisis, according to Unilever’s president of foods and refreshment, Hanneke Faber.

Speaking after the launch of the UN Environment Programme​'s latest Food Waste Index -- which revealed 17% of all food available at consumer levels is thrown away -- she called food waste ‘a growing humanitarian and environmental crisis’.

“The private sector has a critical and urgent role to play to resolve this crisis and we have to stop admiring the problem and get to work,”​ she said.

More than 900 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year, according to the global report. Around 60% of that waste is from households. The retail and food service sectors performed better, generating 13% and 26% respectively.

Food waste has substantial environmental, social and economic impacts, according to the report. It estimates 8%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed, when losses before consumer level are taken into account.

"Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food and thus reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession,"​ said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. "If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste.”

While food waste in Europe has dropped for the third year in a row, according to this year’s Global Food Security Index, compiled by the Economist, the UN report said the global problem is now much bigger than previously estimated.

"For a long time, it was assumed that food waste in the home was a significant problem only in developed countries,"​ said Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP. "With the publication of the Food Waste Index report, we see that things are not so clear cut.

"With only 9 years to go, we will not achieve SDG 12 Target 3 if we do not significantly increase investment in tackling food waste in the home globally. This must be a priority for governments, international organisations, businesses and philanthropic foundations."

Unilever is committed to halving food loss and waste 2030

Unilever is embracing various strategies to meet its commitment to halving food waste across its direct global operations by 2025, Faber explained.

“Increasing the use of predictive analytics has been really helpful for us to predict which products are going to go out of date and which should move faster to sell or donate them versus having them go to landfill.”

The FMCG giant is also collaborating with start-ups and social enterprises to address waste. For example, it is partnering with a start-up called Orbisk in its food service business. Orbisk is a digital food waste monitoring app allowing chefs to measure and save on food they throw away. Orbisk promises to give hotels, restaurants and cafés the ability to reduce food waste up to 50% and improve profit margins by 5%.

With the food waste problem far bigger among households than businesses, Unilever is also exploring initiatives that assist consumers plan their shopping and their meals more carefully. These include Hellmann’s ‘Make Taste, Not Waste’ campaign, launched in partnership with Olio, a social enterprise that connects surplus foods with people​ who need or wish to consume such food.

The ‘Make Taste, Not Waste’ initiative offers online recipe ideas for consumers looking for ideas at what to do with leftover items that might otherwise end up in the bin.

“We’re seeing really good uptake on this with consumers​,” she said.

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