In February 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. This means that stores bigger than 400 square metres will no longer be allowed to destroy products approaching their best-before date. Latest news reveals that Italy has now changed its laws to incentivise food donation and, in the UK, Tesco has pledged to eradicate all its food waste by the end of 2017.

There’s an irony there. The UK’s waste-advisory charity WRAP estimates that out of 41 million tonnes of food bought in Britain in 2013, 15 million went to waste. And yet, based on businesses’ own declarations, only 0.25 million was generated by retail – less than 2%. So if food retailers aren’t the main culprits, why are they evidently taking responsibility and action for food waste?

Fundamentally, food retailers are seen as having the greatest power and therefore are the best placed to take responsibility and promote a change in attitudes towards food. For supermarkets this doesn’t have to mean endless hassle avoiding fines or reduced cost efficiency. The new generation of demand forecasting and inventory planning systems successfully reduce waste and spoilage, a valuable move especially with the growing call for Britain to support the French legislation.

With the right supply chain technology in place, supermarkets can break down data by product/day/week/store/sell-by dates/weather and tell the system what is needed to maintain displays, sustain promotions and so forth. This mean it’s possible to keep stock and thus spoilage to the necessary minimum. These days even the most problematic items, such as bread and loose fresh vegetables that account for the bulk of avoidable food waste can be managed optimally.

The key here is engagement and this means retailers showing what they’re doing, helping customers to waste less and constantly communicating and educating. It’s a great opportunity, for instance, to show that the retailer is ensuring that fruit, vegetables, baked and dairy products all reach the customer as fresh as possible, maximizing their opportunity to enjoy them.

Rather than structure deals to encourage people to buy more perishable products, retailers could pair bread, vegetables or dairy with other items to make a meal – baby corn with rice, potatoes with fish, salad with wine. Of course it helps if you explain to customers why you’re doing this.

The responsibility lies with influential business to lead the movement and help change attitudes towards food. This includes showing how they cut waste by working with a supply chain management system and collaborating over the right use of the minimized waste stock. Whether this needs to be pushed by a legislative change, our food needs to be treated as precious and supermarkets have the power to display this.

Mikko Kärkkäinen

Mikko Kärkkäinen

Group CEO, D.Sc. (Tech.)


Phone+44 7802 658 237

Mikko Kärkkäinen is the Group CEO at RELEX and the author of more than thirty papers on logistics and supply chain issues delivered at conferences or published in leading magazines.

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